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Posts tagged ‘Slovioc Land of Slovenia’

Slovenia’s president wins second term in runoff election

November 12, 2017

BLED, Slovenia (AP) — Slovenia’s President Borut Pahor was re-elected to a second term Sunday after winning a runoff election against a former comedian who currently serves as the mayor of a northern town.

Pahor, 54, a veteran politician known as the “King of Instagram” for his frequent use of social media, won 53 percent of the vote to challenger Marjan Sarec’s 47 percent, results from Slovenian election authorities showed after a completed preliminary count.

Pahor thanked voters and vowed to further boost their faith in democracy. He congratulated his opponent for his performance. “I will be a president of all,” Pahor said. “I’ll bring people together and build on what brings us closer.”

Pahor is only the second Slovenian president to win a second term in office since the country gained independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991. The country of 2 million people in Central Europe is the birthplace of U.S. first lady Melania Trump and known for its Alpine mountains and lakes.

A former model like the U.S. first lady, the telegenic, blue-eyed politician has held a number of public posts and was Slovenia’s prime minister before he first was elected president in 2012. Sarec was a well-known satirical comedian before entering politics in 2010 to run for mayor in Kamnik. He conceded defeat and congratulated Pahor on Sunday night, but said his success as a relative political newcomer showed Slovenian citizens wanted change.

“I’m proud to have had a possibility to run against the premiere league,” Sarec said at his headquarters in Kamnik. “My result is good. It speaks for itself.” Analysts had warned that Sarec’s ability to make it into the runoff showed Slovenians’ discontent with established politicians. Critics accused Pahor of avoiding taking stands on important issues.

Election authorities said less than 42 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in Sunday’s election. Slovenia’s official STA news agency says that’s the lowest turnout for a presidential race since Slovenia split from the former Yugoslavia in 1991.

Key topics facing Slovenia include the economy, a border dispute with Croatia and the future of the European Union, which Slovenia joined in 2004. Slovenia’s presidency carries no executive powers, but the office-holder proposes a prime minister and his or her opinion on important issues holds weight. Pahor and Sarec, while both centrists, clashed on issues such as the privatization of Slovenia’s biggest bank and the composition of the country’s anti-corruption body.

After voting Sunday, Pahor complained that he has been falsely viewed as a populist — which he says he is not — while Sarec was trying to assume the role of a “statesman.” Pahor suggested that the “change of roles” cost him public support.

In his victory speech, Pahor, who has sought to portray himself as a unifier president, also said that he will strive to help solve problems and bridge any divisions that might exist in the Slovenian society.

Ali Zerdin contributed from Ljubljana, Slovenia and Dusan Stojanovic contributed from Belgrade, Serbia.


Slovenia’s tourism booms thanks in part to Melania Trump

January 31, 2017

LJUBLJANA, Slovenia (AP) — The tiny European nation of Slovenia is undergoing a tourism boom partly because it is the native country of U.S. first lady Melania Trump. The national Statistics Bureau said Tuesday that the number of overnight stays in Slovenia by American tourists has jumped by 10 percent in 2016 when compared to 2015.

Nearly 4 million foreign tourists visited the country of 2 million in 2016, up by about 10 percent. Slovenian tourist agencies have been organizing special tours “on the footsteps of Melania Trump” showing the places where she lived, studied and worked before she left in her 20s to pursue a modeling career.

A website promoting the Alpine nation of stunning natural beauty says: “Welcome to the homeland of the new First Lady of the United States of America!”

Melania Trump’s hometown in Slovenia marks inauguration

January 20, 2017

SEVNICA, Slovenia (AP) — The inauguration of Donald Trump is a big thing for a small town in Slovenia where the new U.S. first lady traces her roots. Residents of Sevnica watched live coverage from Washington at the town’s cafes or at their homes, dazzled by Melania Trump’s appearance in a sky blue cashmere jacket and mock turtleneck combination by Ralph Lauren.

Starting Friday, the town of 5,000 people launched three days of events to mark the inauguration and welcome all guests wishing to see where Melania Trump grew up. Mayor Srecko Ocvirk says Sevnica has organized free guided tours, a display of locally produced goods in the 12th century castle above the old town and a festival of grape vine pruning. The products include locally-made sausages and wine and a line of women’s slippers from Sevnica’s Kopitarna shoe factory.

“We want to mark it with nice, appropriate products,” Ocvirk told The Associated Press. On a website promoting Slovenia — an Alpine nation of stunning natural beauty that has 2 million people — the headline reads: “Welcome to the homeland of the new First Lady of the United States of America!”

Melania Trump has hired a law firm in Slovenia to protect her name and image from being used on numerous products that recently have sprung up there. Born Melanija Knavs in nearby Novo Mesto in 1970, the new U.S. first lady grew up in Sevnica while Slovenia was part of the Communist-ruled former Yugoslavia.

She left in her 20s to pursue a modeling career. The last time she is believed to have visited Slovenia was in July 2002, when she introduced Donald Trump to her parents at the lakeside Grand Hotel Toplice in the resort town of Bled.

Sevnica residents have invited the U.S. presidential couple to visit.

Putin hails Slovenia’s offer to host his meeting with Trump

February 10, 2017

MOSCOW (AP) — President Vladimir Putin thanked Slovenia on Friday for offering to host his first meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump, but added that the prospect hinges on Washington. The Russian leader hailed Slovenia, where Trump’s wife Melania was born and grew up, as an “excellent” venue for possible talks with Trump.

“It depends not only on us, but we are naturally ready for it,” he said. Speaking after holding talks at the Kremlin with his Slovenian counterpart Borut Pahor, Putin said Russia welcomes Trump’s statements about his intentions to restore the strained Russia-U.S. ties.

“We always welcomed that and we hope that relations will be restored in full in all areas,” Putin said. “It relates to trade and economic ties, security issues and various regions of the world, which are suffering from numerous conflicts. By pooling our efforts, we naturally would be able to significantly contribute to solving those issues, including the fight against international terrorism.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said he’s looking forward to an opportunity to talk to U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Germany, where they both will attend a security conference and a meeting of the G-20 foreign ministers next week. Lavrov told NTV television that Putin and Trump agreed about the need to meet soon during their phone call on Jan. 28 and told diplomats to negotiate the time and venue.

In recent years, Russia-U.S. relations have plunged to post-Cold war lows over the Ukrainian crisis, the war in Syria and the allegations of Russia hacking of the Democrats in the U.S. presidential election.

In 2001, Slovenia hosted Putin’s first meeting with former U.S. President George W. Bush that led to a short-lived thaw in relations between Moscow and Washington. A similarly short warm spell early during Barack Obama’s presidency gave way to new tensions.

As part of Obama’s early effort to “reset” ties with Moscow, the two nations in 2010 signed a pivotal arms control pact that set new lower caps on the number of warheads each country can deploy. Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said the prospects of extending the New START Treaty that is set to expire in 2021 will “depend on the position of our American partners” and require negotiations.

He wouldn’t say whether the Kremlin favors extending the pact that limited Russian and U.S. nuclear arsenals to no more than 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads each. Speaking in a conference call with reporters, Peskov pointed to a “certain break in dialogue on strategic security issues” during the Obama administration, and said Moscow and Washington now need “an update of information and positions.”

Peskov on Friday denied a report by the Washington Post claiming that Michael Flynn, the retired general who is now Trump’s national security adviser, had discussed a possible review of anti-Russian sanctions with the Russian ambassador to Washington in December. Peskov said Ambassador Sergei Kislyak did talk to Flynn, but the rest of the report was wrong.

While suggesting possible cooperation with Moscow to fight the Islamic State group in Syria, as a candidate Trump was critical of the New START and talked about a need to strengthen U.S. nuclear arsenals.

In December, Trump declared on Twitter that the U.S. should “greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability” until the rest of the world “comes to its senses” regarding nuclear weapons. Putin also has said strengthening Russia’s nuclear capabilities should be among the nation’s priorities.

The platform of Trump’s Republican Party had promised to “abandon arms control treaties that benefit our adversaries without improving our national security” and called for the development of “a multi-layered missile defense system.”

Kislyak told Russian media in Washington that he sees little chance for a compromise on missile defense, as Moscow believes the U.S. wants to develop the shield against Russia despite assurances that it’s directed against other threats.

“I don’t exclude that at a certain stage we may have a mutual interest to talk about those issues, but as of now I’m not seeing any basis for reaching agreement,” he said, according to the Interfax news agency.

He voiced hope, however, that joint efforts to fight the IS could help break the ice in Russia-U.S. ties. “If we have serious cooperation, it could help to start rebuilding trust,” Kislyak said in televised remarks.

Lavrov said Friday that Putin and Trump had a “good, detailed talk” about nuclear non-proliferation, including issues related to Iran and North Korea during their phone call.

Slovenia awaits birth of new generation of ‘baby dragons’

March 08, 2016

POSTOJNA, Slovenia (AP) — Slovenia is counting down the days until the birth of a new generation of “baby dragons.” Scientists in the Central European country have proudly announced that a female olm — a Gollum-like, lizard-sized amphibian living in an aquarium in the country’s biggest cave — has laid eggs. They have described it as the first example of observed out-of-lab breeding of the species.

The eyeless pink animal, known as the “baby dragon” and “human fish” for its skin-like color, can live a century and breeds only once a decade — usually in laboratories throughout Europe or deep in caves away from people.

Slovenian scientists have been ecstatic about the prospects of having baby olms born in Postojna Cave. The eggs are expected to hatch in about 100 days, or sometime in June. “This is something truly extraordinary,” said biologist Saso Weldt, who works at the cave in northwestern Slovenia. “Nobody has ever witnessed (their) reproduction in nature. We even haven’t seen an animal younger than two years.”

The olm was already in a big aquarium in the cave when the eggs were discovered by chance on Jan. 30 by a tour guide who noticed a little white dot attached to the fish tank’s wall. A pregnant olm stood guard next to it, snapping at an intruder who tried to come close.

Scientists removed other inhabitants from the aquarium, leaving the mother alone with the eggs. In the weeks that followed, the olm laid a total of 57 eggs, three of which seem to be developing. Biologists say this is a good number, as olm eggs have a poor record in actually lasting the 120 days that are needed for them to mature and hatch.

“Olms are not really successful when it comes to reproduction,” Weldt explained. Two years ago, a Postojna olm also laid eggs, but they fell prey to other cave inhabitants. So, this time biologists have isolated the female and her eggs in a dark spot, added extra oxygen and removed any outside influences.

A record number of visitors in February have been allowed nowhere near the mother and her eggs — tourists could only view a live video screening via special infrared cameras that were installed near the aquarium.

Slovenians, some of whom are contemplating declaring the olm the next “Slovenian of the Year,” have been keeping their fingers crossed. “We did all that is in our power,” biologist Weldt said. “Now we wait.”

Preliminary results: Slovenians reject same-sex marriage law

December 20, 2015

LJUBLJANA, Slovenia (AP) — Slovenians rejected same-sex marriage by a large margin in a referendum on Sunday, according to near-complete results, in a victory for the conservatives backed by the Catholic Church in the ex-communist EU nation.

The results released by authorities show 63.5 percent voted against a bill that defines marriage as a union of two adults, while 36.5 percent were in favor. Slovenia’s left-leaning Parliament introduced marriage equality in March, but opponents pushed through a popular vote on the issue. The “Children Are At Stake” group has collected 40,000 signatures to challenge the changes before any gay couples were able to marry.

“This result presents a victory for our children,” said Ales Primc, the group’s leader. Ljudmila Novak, from New Slovenia, described the outcome as a “clear defeat” of the leftist government, which backed the changes.

Supporters of same-sex marriage have called for Slovenia to join Western European nations that have allowed more gay rights. Conservatives and the right-wing opposition have campaigned on traditional family values, arguing that marriage equality paves the way for gay and lesbian couples to adopt children.

Although Slovenia is considered to be among the most liberal of the ex-communist nations, gay rights remain a contentious topic in the predominantly Roman Catholic nation of 2 million. Voters in the former Yugoslav republic rejected granting more rights to gay couples in a referendum in 2012.

Violeta Tomic, a lawmaker from the United Left party which initially put forward the bill, said referendum results presented a temporary setback only. “It’s not over yet. Sooner or later the law will be accepted,” she said.

The Slovenia vote illustrates a cultural split within the European Union in which more established western members are rapidly granting new rights to gays, while eastern newcomers entrench conservative attitudes toward the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

Igor Zagar, a 55-year-old professor from the capital, Ljubljana, said he voted in favor of marriage equality to “support the secular state and against the interference of the church into political issues.”

Gregor Jerovsek, a 40-year-old mechanic from Ljubljana, said he believed that “the family should not be a field for experimentation.” “A traditional family should remain the key value of our society,” he said.

Tiny Slovenia struggles with massive migrant surge

November 12, 2015

RIGONCE, Slovenia (AP) — Stanko Kovac felt only sympathy for the thousands of migrants who flow chest-deep across freezing rivers to reach Slovenia from Croatia, trudging day and night by his house right at the border. That is, until they started trampling his crops and scaring his cattle and chicken.

“They are poor people forced to flee violence, it is a tragedy,” Kovac said by a barn in his sleepy hillside village. “But we can no longer stand the sight. Slovenia is choking under the surge.” The Slovenian farmer’s message reflects the general mood in the tiny Alpine state of just over 2 million people, confronted with Europe’s worst migrant crisis since World War II. The largely Catholic nation fears it could be overwhelmed by mostly Muslim refugees if neighboring Austria and Germany further west decide to stop the massive flow from the Balkans.

With the European Union estimating that 3 million more migrants will arrive in Europe over the next year, the patience of Slovenians, traditionally known for tolerance, is wearing thin. Their government announced Tuesday that a fence will be put up to control the flow, although not completely to stop it.

Although Slovenia insists it is not shutting down its borders for migrants — like neighboring Hungary did this summer — the curbing of the surge that has seen some 170,000 enter Slovenia since mid-October is bound to trigger a ripple effect down the so-called Balkan migrant corridor that also includes Turkey, Greece, Macedonia, Serbia and Croatia.

With winter approaching, no country along the route wants to be stuck with tens of thousands of restless migrants on its territory. Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar said that if the EU does not find a solution for the migrant crisis soon — by which he means stopping people from entering Greece from Turkey — Slovenia’s borders “will have to be defended with wires, policemen and soldiers.”

“It is easy to say that the repression is not a solution, but what is to be done when they enter your house one after another?” he said. “No European country will allow such a situation. There are some limits.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been under increased domestic pressure to reconsider her welcoming policy for migrants and reduce the arrivals. Germany, which is expected to take up to 1.5 million people by the new year, has already tightened its refugee policy by saying that Afghans should not seek asylum and that only Syrians have a chance.

With both Germany and Austria reconsidering their free-flow policies, the worst-case scenario of tens of thousands of migrants, many with young children, stranded in the Balkans in a brutal winter looks more and more likely.

“If Austria or Germany shut their borders, more than 100,000 migrants would be stuck in Slovenia in few weeks,” Cerar said. “We can’t allow the humanitarian catastrophe to happen on our territory.” But analysts warn that shutting down borders would only trigger more havoc in the Balkans, the main European escape route from war and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

“The closure of the borders in not a solution, it only passes the problem to another country,” said Charlie Wood, an American humanitarian worker looking to help migrants in their journey across Slovenia. “If Slovenia closes its border, Croatia will close its border and then Serbia will do the same … and so on. That does not stop babies from dying in cold.”

Slovenian refugee camps once planned to handle a few hundred people a day. Now they struggle to provide shelter and food for an average of 6,000 a day. The Slovenian government has warned that the figure could soon reach 30,000 a day as the onset of cold weather has not stopped the surge.

Last week, thousands of people crammed into a refugee camp at Sentilj on the border with Austria, many angry about the speed of their transit and hurling insults at machine-gun-toting Slovenian policemen patrolling outside a wire fence with sanitary masks over their faces.

“We haven’t eaten or had water for over 12 hours,” said Fahim Nusri from Syria, who had to spend a night in the camp in cold and foggy weather together with his wife and two small children before they were allowed into Austria. “Me and my wife are not a problem, but what about our children?”

When Hungary closed its border with Croatia in mid-October, thousands turned to Slovenia instead, many of them marching through cold rivers, desperate to continue their journey westward before the weather gets even colder.

All of them went past Kovac’s village house, leaving piles of garbage and pieces of clothing on the field next to it. “We had to call the army to disinfect the street and our houses,” the villager said. “They are desperate people, but enough is enough.”

Croatia and Slovenia later negotiated a deal to transport migrants and refugees across their border in trains, which led to a more orderly transit. But, with Slovenia now placing barriers, the chaotic surge could resume.

“If someone thinks that border fences will stop our march, they are really wrong,” said Mohammed Sharif, a student from Damascus, as he tried to keep warm by a bonfire in the Sentilj camp. “It will just make our trip more dangerous and deadly, but we have nowhere to return. Our country and our homes are destroyed and we are in Europe to stay.”

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