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Wednesday, March 11, 1998 Published at 18:58 GMT

World: Europe

Slovakia rejects criticism of its Prime Minister
image: [ Slovak Prime Minister, Vladimir Meciar: warned about use of presidential powers ]
Slovak Prime Minister, Vladimir Meciar: warned about use of presidential powers

Slovakia has rejected American and European Union criticism of its Prime Minister, Vladimir Meciar, saying his use of presidential powers is constitutional.

The western criticism followed Mr Meciar's decision to halt a key referendum on Nato membership and the direct election of the president, to sack half the country's ambassadors and to end a politically sensitive criminal investigation into the kidnapping of the son of the former Slovak President Michael Kovac.

Speaking as Mr Meciar was leaving for a conference of potential EU member countries in London, the Slovak Foreign Minister, Zdenka Kramplova, said the country welcomed dialogue with its western partners but would not accept monologue.

Improvements needed for EU membership

The European Union has said Slovakia's integration into Europe could be adversely affected by Mr Meciar's actions. The EU says they raise questions about his commitment to the rule of law and might present a setback to the "progressive integration" of the Slovak people into European structures.

The BBC's Europe correspondent says the declaration, issued through the UK presidency of the union, went as far as possible to cast fresh doubt over Slovakia's suitability as an EU candidate without actually saying so.

Slovakia is one of 11 countries due to start negotiations for EU membership at the end of the month. The EU has insisted on improvements to its democratic system and to its treatment of minorities. A British official in Brussels said the opposite seemed to be happening and, while Slovakia's shortcomings in applying for EU membership were not as bad as Turkey's, the country was getting worse not better.

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