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Slovakian Referendum Under Fire

February 21, 1998

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia (AP) _ A day after Slovakia’s outgoing president ordered a controversial referendum reheld, the ruling coalition launched a campaign against it on Saturday.

The comments by officials in the government of Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar signal the latest battle between the autocratic premier and President Michal Kovac, who leaves office March 2.

Kovac said Friday that the nonbinding referendum, asking Slovaks whether they support NATO membership and direct elections for the presidency, must be restaged on April 19.

Last year’s vote was thwarted when Interior Minister Gustav Krajci ordered the issue of direct elections _ backed by the public but opposed by the government _ struck from the ballot. But two weeks ago, the Constitutional Court ruled that that move was unconstitutional, clearing the way for another vote.

Unswayed, the government used its mouthpiece newspaper Saturday to blast the order.

``Referendum cannot be repeated!″ said a headline in the government’s Slovenska Republika daily.

The newspaper quoted prosecutor general Michal Valo as saying the president’s decision carried no legal weight, and that last year’s referendum _ missing the key question on direct elections _ was still valid.

Meciar’s parliamentary and governmental allies also denounced the decision.

It was not clear what Meciar’s administration would do after Kovac leaves office. All the relevant institutions will be left under Meciar’s command.

Slovakia has some 3.5 million voters.

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