Slovak Leaders Call for Elections to End Deadlock

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LEADERS of Slovakia's main political forces seemed to agree on Sunday that a new election is the only way to break a legislative stalemate stifling efforts to rebuild the economy and attract investment.

Premier Vladimir Meciar proposed late Saturday that elections be held in June, calling this ``the purest and most honest solution'' to his parliamentary deadlock with opponents and to political infighting within his own party.

Peter Weiss, leader of the Party of the Democratic Left, the former communists who are Slovakia's second strongest political grouping, said, ``The time is ripe for change,'' according to the CTK news agency.

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Since Mr. Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia won elections in June 1992, his standing has been eroded by defections of allies disillusioned with his authoritarian style and his effort to concentrate power. The instability has kept foreign investors away, leaving the country with double-digit unemployment, economic stagnation, and a dead program to convert state enterprises to private ownership.

Last Tuesday, Meciar tried to get parliament to confirm him as Slovakia's privatization czar. But when it became apparent he would lose the vote, deputies of Meciar's party walked out, halting parliament.

Polls suggest Meciar's party is supported by about 20 percent of the voters, compared with the 32 percent of the votes it won in the 1992 election. Mr. Weiss's party runs a close second.

Slovakia, the less-industrialized eastern third of the former Czechoslovakia federation, became an independent state on Jan. 1, 1993.

Apart from being premier, Meciar has made himself the acting minister in charge of privatization and chairman of the National Property Fund, which controls revenues from sales of state businesses that have been completed.

Neo-Fascist elected in Sicily

A NEO-FASCIST was elected head of a provincial government in eastern Sicily on Sunday, six weeks before national elections, according to official results yesterday.

Nello Musumeci, of the neo-Fascist Italian Social Movement, won 66.3 percent of the vote in a run-off against Stelio Mangiameli, who stood for the centrist Pact for Italy movement in the election in the province of Catania. Candidates of the left, which won mayoral elections in the same area last year, were knocked out in the first round two weeks earlier. Fewer than 40 percent of eligible voters took part in Sunday's ballot, held six weeks before Italians vote in parliamentary elections that are shaping up as a battle between alliances of the right and left.

Russian military helicopter crashes

ELEVEN Russian border guards died Sunday when their helicopter crashed in Tajikistan, the latest in a series of fatal accidents that have embarrassed and worried the Russian military.

The helicopter was evacuating a wounded soldier from the tense border with Afghanistan when the crew lost its way in a snowstorm and crashed into a hillside, says Yevgeny Znamensky, spokesman for the Border Guards Command in Moscow.

The accident occurred three days after a fatal crash in which two Russian Navy helicopters collided at a Crimean base, killing all six crew members. Six sailors also died this month in a steam explosion on an aircraft carrier in the northern port of Murmansk.

The string of accidents has led a group of families, calling itself the Council of Parents of Russian Servicemen, to appeal to Defense Minister Pavel Grachev for urgent efforts to upgrade safety and improve discipline, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported yesterday.

The group said it did not consider the accidents random, sporadic, or just bad luck. Rather, they result from weakened discipline in the ranks and lack of strictness by senior officers, the parents said, according to ITAR-Tass.

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