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News Roundup - Wednesday, 8 March

Ljubljana, 8 March - Below is a roundup of major events on Wednesday, 8 March:

ECONOMY

BRUSSELS, Belgium - The European Commission and the European Central Bank (ECB) will publish their separate convergence reports on Slovenia's readiness to join the eurozone in May, the Commission told STA on Wednesday. The statement comes as a response to Slovenia's request last week for an individual convergence assessment. The Commission added the ECOFIN will most likely take its decision on Slovenia's readiness on the basis of these reports on 11 July, whereas the formal decision would be taken at the EU summit on 15 and 16 June. In mid-February, Slovenian Finance Minister Andrej Bajuk said that an individual report would be asked for because a joint convergence report for all euro candidates would be drafted in October, which would be too late for Slovenia's planned 1 January 2007 switch.

LJUBLJANA - According to former Finance Minister Dusan Mramor, Slovenia's request for an individual convergence assessment, which will entail reports by the European Commission and the European Central Bank on Slovenia's readiness to join the eurozone, was entirely logical. "It is a well timed move with good arguments," Mramor commented for STA on Wednesday, adding that the nominal convergence criteria have been met and were relatively stable. In his view there is no reason why the only remaining criteria - a two-year participation in the ERM II system - should not be fulfiled by June this year.

LJUBLJANA - Calls for a law on the promotion of Slovenian products and opposition to the flat tax were the guiding lines of the 33th annual meeting of cooperatives in Portoroz, which wrapped up on Wednesday. Following EU entry, shop shelves are stocked with products from abroad which are of inferior quality to Slovenian products but still sell well. This is a big problem for Slovenian agriculture, Peter Vrisk, the head of the Association of Cooperatives, said in his opening address yesterday. He therefore called for a law on the promotion of Slovenian products which would stipulate that all sectors in the food industry allocate a certain percentage of their sales for the promotion of Slovenian products. Agriculture Ministry State Secretary Franci But promised today that such a law would come into effect in 2007 at the latest. The government would provide half of the required funding with the help of the EU, while farmers and the food industry would secure the remaining funds.

LJUBLJANA - Andrej Horvat, the state secretary at the Government Office for Development, is convinced that a compromise on the flat tax rate will be reached despite the current opposition from the trade unions. "It has to be, otherwise development cannot go on," Horvat told the weekly Mag. "We will also have to overhaul the concept of social partnership. The social partners must come to terms with their role in a modern state - in Slovenia we are still on the barricades instead of talking to each other and identifying common goals," he said. Horvat said one of the tasks of the Development Office would be to push for the restructuring of the 2006 and 2007 budgets, as national funding will have to be secured for the estimated EUR 4bn in EU funds that Slovenia is to get in the 2007-2013 period.

LJUBLJANA - Transport Minister Janez Bozic has told a public debate in parliament that the main aim of the draft resolution on transport policy is achieving maximum mobility in Slovenia. The proposed policy has been tailored to allow effective, stable, safe and cheap transport of goods and people in Slovenia. The measures also promote sustainable growth of the sector, Bozic said at Wednesday's debate. According to him, the end result should be a system whereby Slovenia would see a reduction in the negative impact of transport on the environment and people, he said.

LJUBLJANA - The economic affairs college of Prime Minister Janez Jansa has called for sufficient resources to co-finance strategic projects in the framework of guidelines for the phasing of EU funds, in particular where local communities have insufficient funds. The appeal was made as part of the think tank's debate on the 2007-2013 National Development Programme and the National Strategic Reference framework, which are to be adopted by the government on Thursday, the PM's office said in Wednesday's press release.

BRUSSELS, Belgium - Slovenia is ahead of the EU average in terms of the number of mobile phones users, the latest statistics from Eurostat show. According to data from 2004, 93.7 out of 100 Slovenians used a mobile phone, which was above the 89.6 per 100 average in the EU. Moreover, Slovenia even outstrips the EU-15, where on average 92.5 out of 100 people used a mobile phone in 2004. According to Eurostat, 1,849,000 Slovenians were users of mobile phone services in 2004, which is a whopping 4,500% more than in 1996. However, in fixed line telephony, Slovenia trails the EU average of 49.6 lines per 100 people, as it has 43 lines per 100 people. Meanwhile, 47% of Slovenian households had an Internet connection in 2004, which is 4 percentage points above the EU average.

LJUBLJANA - Factory-gate prices rose 0.6% in February compared with January, putting the yearly price increase at 1.6%, according to data by the National Statistical Office. From the beginning of January, factory-gate prices rose by 0.5%. The most substantial price increase in February was recorded in water supply and electricity prices, which went up by 2.8%. Meanwhile, prices in manufacturing rose by 1.4% over those of February last year.

POLITICS

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories - Slovenian President Janez Drnovsek and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called for tighter bilateral ties as they met in Ramallah on Wednesday, including the mutual opening of diplomatic missions. Considering that Slovenia would pay special attention to the Middle East peace process as the presiding EU country in 2008, the presidents have endorsed the idea that appropriate diplomatic missions be opened in the Palestinian territories as well as Slovenia, Drnovsek's office said in a press release. "We both agreed on the importance and the necessity to open a Slovenian representative office in the Palestinian areas to strengthen the Slovenian-Palestinian relations, and allow for a bigger role for Slovenia in the region," President Abbas said at a joint press conference according to Palestinian news agency WAFA.

TEL AVIV, Israel - President Janez Drnovsek told TV Slovenija on Tuesday that the only way to solve the Middle East conflict is through dialogue between Israel and the Palestinians, adding that "Hamas should not be completely neglected as a possible partner in the quest for peace". Besides meeting Knesset Speaker Rueven Rivlin, Drnovsek also held talks yesterday with former Israeli PM and FM Shimon Peres. His advisor Ivo Vajgl told STA on Wednesday that Drnovsek and Peres discussed possible ways to continue the peace process in the region. The pair shared a view that the recent election won by the Hamas movement has left the two nations in a precarious position. However, the outcome of the vote could also give a fresh impetus to the talks, they agreed.

LJUBLJANA - "Since 1967 Israel has been laying claim to land on which Palestinians have lived for centuries. We demand nothing from Israel other than that they leave the occupied territories. Our actions are only a reaction to their occupational politics," the political leader of Hamas, Haled Mashal, told Delo in an interview published on Wednesday. Mashal explained that Hamas is prepared to recognise Israel only if Israel retreats to the borders of 1967, relinquishes its occupation of Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem, allows Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and releases all political prisoners. Hamas does not accept the US solution, because it is not even respected by those who created it, said Mashal.

LJUBLJANA - The considerably expanded right to demand corrections and the establishment of a fund for the promotion of media plurality proved to be the most contestible provisions of the draft amendments to the media act that media experts and politicians scrutinised on Wednesday. The government proposal vastly expands the current right to corrections by defining a correction not only in a narrow sense, but as "correction of wrong or untruthful statements in the published report, as well as the statement of facts and circumstances...that challenge or essentially supplement the published statements." Grega Repovz, the head of the Association of Slovenian Journalists, said this would encroach on the constitutionally-guaranteed right to freedom of speech. Similarly, editor-in-chief of daily Dnevnik said the provision would open the door wide to abuse. On the other end of the scale, politicians used the debate to present bad experience and examples of bad practice which they claimed speaks in favour of such a broad right to corrections in order to prevent abuse by media outlets.

LJUBLJANA - Slovenia will launch a campaign to vie for the seat of the European Institute for Gender Equality next week in Strasbourg, the Labour, Family and Social Affairs Ministry told STA on Wednesday. Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Lithuania will also compete for the seat along with Slovenia, the ministry said, but added that none of the four candidates holds a competitive advantage. The final decision on establishing such an institute is expected to be taken at the June meeting of EU ministers for employment, social policy and equal opportunities. The country to host the new institution is expected to be selected at the December EU summit by the heads of EU member states.

LJUBLJANA - While women in Slovenia are better off than their European colleagues in some areas, they still lag behind when it comes to representation in decision-making processes. These were the basic findings of a debate on the partnership between women and men on the labour market hosted by the Office for Equal Opportunities on Wednesday. This-year's debate, featuring political representatives, experts, social partners and others, was the first in a series of such meetings to take place in the coming years on 8 March, International Women's Day. According to Tanja Salecl, the director of the Office for Equal Opportunities, the debates will provide a platform to exchange ideas and form concrete initiatives addressing the most important issues concerning gender equality.

LJUBLJANA - A panel on the role of women in international relations has heard that the potential and knowledge of women is crucial in decision making. Ljubljana Mayor Danica Simsic said that women should be included at all levels of decision-making because only this way can the full potential of a society be put into practice. Although the role of women has improved in recent decades, there is still proof of their marginalisation in business and public life, the head of Council of Europe's documentation and information centre in Slovenia said. According to Liana Kalcina, women may have equal rights in modern day society but they do not have equal opportunities. The debate, hosted by the Euroatlantic Council of Slovenia and the Slovenian International Relations Council, also heard addresses by the Norwegian and Turkish ambassadors to Slovenia, May Britt Brofoss and Melek Sina Baydur.

LJUBLJANA - A Slovenian delegation is to take part in the 62nd session of the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva next week even though Slovenia is not a member of the commission, Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel has said. Rupel told the press on Wednesday in Ljubljana that Slovenia has been authorised by the EU to lobby with individual members in a bid to promote European interests at the session. Speaking at a press conference following a meeting with Slovenian NGOs, Rupel said that Slovenian lobbying will relate to resolutions dealing with democracy, racism, child trafficking and terrorism. Moreover, Slovenia is to promote its own views on the main topic of the session - the rights of women and children.

LJUBLJANA - The US State Department delivers an overall positive opinion of Slovenia in its annual human rights report, but mentions recurrent cases of media self-censorship, violence against women, trafficking in women and discrimination against minorities and homosexuals. According to the 2005 report, Slovenian journalists continue to exercise self-censorship, while big media outlets still fail to provide for equal presentation of all political and business parties.

LJUBLJANA/VRHNIKA - Slovenian military instructors have their hands full training Iraqi security forces, the Slovenian Armed Forces said in a press release on Wednesday. The army said that the three non-commissioned officers and one commissioned officer are feeling fine but have a busy schedule at a military training centre near Baghdad. According to the army, the four servicemen have not been exposed to the latest wave of sectarian violence to hit Iraq. In a separate development, 53 Slovenian soldiers who served in the NATO-led ISAF mission in Afghanistan recently were conferred honorary medals from the Canadian Armed Forces. The Canadian General Campaign Stars were conferred on the soldiers by Canadian Ambassador to Slovenian Robert Hage and Canadian Defence Attache Lieutenant Michel Legault at the Vrhnika barracks near Ljubljana on Wednesday.

LJUBLJANA - Parliament Speaker France Cukjati called for closer ties with Cyprus, especially in tourism, in talks on Wednesday with Christos Mavrokordatos, the chair of the agriculture committee of the Cyprian parliament. Slovenia is following developments in Cyprus; being a small country itself, it understands the problems of smaller countries much better than big states, Cukjati was quoted as saying by the parliament's PR office. He is reported as having welcomed the decision of the Cyprian authorities that open issues with Turkey be resolved patiently on the diplomatic floor.

LJUBLJANA - MPs elected Verica Trstenjak as candidate for the post of advocate general of the EU court in Luxembourg at a secret ballot held on Tuesday. Trstenjak, who is currently a judge at the European Court of Justice, was elected from among three candidates put forward by President Janez Drnovsek even if the government had proposed Trstenjak as the most suitable for this office. Needing at least 46 votes to get elected, Trstenjak secured 49 votes at yesterday's ballot.

KLAGENFURT, Austria - The district governor of Voelkermarkt (Velikovec), August Muri, held his promise and issued a decree on the erection of a bilingual sign in Bleiburg (Pliberk) and Ebersdorf (Drvesa vas), an Austrian daily reports on Wednesday. The Austrian Constitutional Court ruled in December that bilingual place signs should be set up in these two towns in the Austrian province of Carinthia. It also said that the ruling should be implemented by the Voelkermarkt local government by 30 June 2006. Muri had promised to issue a suitable decree before retiring and, according to the daily Der Standard, signed the document Thursday, before his last day in office on Friday.

BUSINESS

LJUBLJANA - Slovenian real estate agents are unhappy with the actions of the Ministry of the Environment and Spatial Planning regarding the implementation of the act on real estate agency, yet they are bullish about the property market in the coming years. According to the association for real estate agency at the Chamber of Commerce (GZS), the realtors are unhappy with the registration and issuance of ID cards: whereas 850 agents have so far passed the exam, only 646 have actually received the mandatory ID cards. Speaking to the press on Wednesday, the association's secretary Anton Kozar also criticised the ministry for its lax sanctioning policy. The ministry has revoked only three licences due to violations, but it should have revoked many more, he said.

LJUBLJANA - Strong performance by pharma company Krka, retailer Mercator and oil trader Petrol managed to offset substantial losses by several other chips, pushing the main market SBI 20 index up 4.91 points in mixed trading on Wednesday, at 4,535.49 points. The action was again lacklustre, as brokers closed deal worth EUR 3.23m, but more than 60% in block trading.

HEALTH

LJUBLJANA - Slovenian veterinary authorities on Wednesday removed the 3-km quarantine zone around the village of Muta, the second bird flu outbreak site in the country, as a 21-day period from the last disinfection and the discovery of the only case of bird flu expired on Tuesday. The 10-km surveillance zone will be lifted 30 days after the last confirmation of a case of bird flu, according to Vida Cadonic Spelic, the head of the National Veterinary Administration (VURS). Muta in the northeast was declared an outbreak site after the first animal that tested positive for bird flu, a swan found in Maribor, had been taken to a veterinary office there.

ARTS & CULTURE

LJUBLJANA - The members of the National Council for Culture assessed reforms proposed by the government as necessary, and as an opportunity to thoroughly reorganise the approach to culture in Slovenia, as they met at the Culture Ministry on Wednesday. The participants, who were also addressed by Culture Minister Vasko Simoniti, backed a proposal to draft a resolution on the reform of the public cultural sector and the flat tax rate. According to Simoniti, expert opinions on the effects a possible introduction of the flat tax would have on culture do not forecast "a catastrophe". He added that certain areas of culture would nevertheless be hurt: that is why measures mitigating the negative effects would have to be introduced. In the opinion of writer Drago Jancar, a comprehensive public discussion is a precondition for a targeted redefinition of culture. The public has to understand that culture enjoys a special status in other democratic European countries. Only then can this approach also be embraced by economists, said Jancar.

KRANJ - Vekosava - Veka Kokalj, the first Slovenian and Yugoslav camerawoman, has died aged 78. Kokalj entered the largely male-dominated profession in 1948 at Triglav film. An important part of her filming oeuvre consists of Slovenian puppet films, but she later focused on cartoons. She filmed over 90 documentary, puppet and cartoon films. Kokalj started out as the assistant of the documentary film director Milan Kumar as well as cameramen Metod Badjura and Rudi Vavpotic, but embarked on her independent career with director Igor Pretnar.

SPORT

POKLJUKA - Ole Einar Bjoerndahlen of Norway won the men's biathlon sprint at Pokljuka on Wednesday, 12.3 seconds ahead of France's Raphaela Poiree despite two missed shots. Carl Johan Bergman of Sweden finished third, 24.2 seconds adrift.

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© STA, 2006