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Slovakia President Faces Protest

March 3, 1998

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia (AP) _ Ignoring 2,500 protesters outside the Slovakia presidential palace, autocratic Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar assumed most presidential powers on the same day the five-year term of Michal Kovac expired without a successor.

Deep political rifts in this young country of 5.5 million people have blocked any election of a successor to Kovac because neither pro- nor anti-Meciar candidates can command the required two-thirds majority in the 150-seat parliament.

Outside the presidential palace on Monday, a brass band played and Meciar and his Cabinet bid formal farewell to Kovac, while protesters shouted, ``We don’t want Meciar!″

Chants of ``Thieves!″ ``Meciar is a dictator!″ and ``Meciar to jail!″ echoed through the square.

Kovac, a political ally of Meciar when chosen president in March 1993, gradually became his most prominent opponent.

Now, many of his powers pass to Meciar, who is the most popular politician in Slovakia. But he also has many opponents who accuse him of totalitarian tendencies.

Last week, Kovac said he earned Meciar’s enmity by refusing ``to be an obedient tool in his hands.″

Two attempts to choose a new president failed last month. Another vote is set for Thursday.

With no president in place, the constitution requires that most presidential powers be granted to the prime minister.

As Meciar and his Cabinet swept into the palace courtyard in government limousines, a student, Martin Kugla, addressed the protesters.

``Here comes a man who believes he is Slovakia. We’ve come to show him majority of Slovaks don’t think so,″ Kugla said. ``In 206 days, we will do everything possible to finish off Meciar!″ he added, alluding to parliamentary elections due in September.

``All this guy wants is power. He wants a government of one party! We’ve already had that,″ said another protester, university professor Alois Minarik.

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