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Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 February, 2004, 14:41 GMT
Slovak police clamp down on Roma
Roma man
Roma man shows his injuries allegedly caused by police
Slovakia's government has deployed more than 2,000 soldiers and police officers in Roma areas in an attempt to stop looting and other unrest.

The decision was taken at an emergency cabinet meeting late on Tuesday.

Hundreds of Roma, protesting against government cuts in welfare benefits, stormed shops and clashed with police since last week.

Roma (or gypsy) leaders have called off nationwide rallies planned for Wednesday to prevent further violence.

An interior ministry spokesman said more than 70 Roma had been arrested so far.

This is the biggest transfer of security forces since 1989
Interior Minister Vladimir Palko
Interior Minister Vladimir Palko has visited the affected areas together with the prime minister.

"This is the biggest transfer of security forces since 1989," Mr Palko said, referring to the mass peaceful protests which led to the fall of communism in the then-Czechoslovakia.

The incidents started with several cases of looting last week in eastern regions. On Monday, hundreds of protesters clashed with police in Trebisov.

Police said there was only one case of looting on Tuesday night, in the central village of Hucin.

The intruders stole coffee, cigarettes, alcohol, frozen food, sausages and other groceries, causing a total damage worth 100,000 koruna (2,463 euros.)

I am not thrilled that police had to intervene. But everybody, including the Roma, have to realise that laws are here for all and have to be kept
Frantisek Gulas
Slovak Romany Council member
Roma leaders say they cannot tolerate delinquency in the name of their community.

A Roma leader in eastern Slovakia, Frantisek Gulas from the Slovak Romany Council, told the AP news agency that his group was working with police to try to persuade Roma not to loot.

"I am not thrilled that police had to intervene," he said.

"But everybody, including the Roma, have to realise that laws are here for all and have to be kept."

Slovakia's centre-right government introduced the welfare cuts as part of its efforts to strengthen the economy ahead of EU membership on 1 May.

The cuts hit the impoverished Roma community especially hard.

Correspondents say unemployment rates are high among the Roma, reaching 100% in some villages.

On Tuesday, Slovakia's leftist President Rudolf Schuster warned that the incidents could lead to wider social unrest.

He blamed the government for introducing "untimely and unfair cuts" to welfare benefits.

He has also appealed for calm to the Roma community, who make up more than 8% of the population.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Linden Kemkaran
"The Roma make up about nine per cent of Slovakia's five and a half million people"



SEE ALSO:
Slovakia's beleaguered Gypsies
14 May 03  |  Europe
UN warns of Roma plight
16 Jan 03  |  Europe
In pictures: Roma on the road
17 Jul 03  |  Photo Gallery
Country profile: Slovakia
22 Mar 03  |  Country profiles


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