LJUBLJANA (Reuters) - Thousands of Slovenians protested against budget cuts and alleged corruption in Ljubljana and two other cities on Friday, two days before a presidential election is due to be held in the financially troubled euro zone country.
The demonstrations are the largest so far in a string of protests organised over Facebook which started earlier in November in Slovenia’s second largest city of Maribor, where people demonstrated against the mayor, and have since spread to most other cities.
“I‘m protesting against the government because they are destroying our state, our educational, heath and social systems. We have to show that we are against them and that they are not untouchable,” a 47-year-old engineer Ziva Brcar told Reuters.
Slovenia, which joined the euro zone in 2007 when it was the fastest-growing economy in the bloc, was badly hit by the global crisis due to its dependency on exports.
It is now in recession and struggling with weak exports, a fall in domestic spending due to budget cuts and increasing unemployment, while local banks are hit by rising bad loans.
The conservative government of Prime Minister Janez Jansa this year cut all public sector wages and most social benefits in order to reduce the budget deficit to 4.2 percent of GDP from 6.4 percent last year.
It plans further budget cuts in 2013 so as to bring the deficit to some 3 percent of GDP, normally the maximum level allowed for euro zone members.
The country holds a presidential election on Sunday with former centre-left prime minister Borut Pahor, who advocates a need for cooperation between the government and the opposition, expected to beat the incumbent centre-left president Danilo Turk.
The president, who has a five year mandate, is mostly a ceremonial figure.
The country managed to issue its first sovereign bond in 19 months in October, putting off the possible need for a bailout by at least six months.
At present more than 100,000 of a total of 2 million citizens are unemployed and the government expects this figure to continue increasing next year as it reduces the public sector workforce. The jobless rate reached 11.5 percent in September, the last figures available.
“We are protesting because we need to change things to give more reason to young people not to leave the country. We are protesting against corruption, nepotism, lies,” said 22-year old Mojca, a social sciences student.
Prime Minister Janez Jansa on Thursday called upon citizens to keep demonstrations peaceful.
“The situation is serious but there is no need to give up. We have all the potential to overcome the crisis by ourselves,” he said in a statement.
Two weeks ago a mass protest in Ljubljana was staged by trade unions opposing spending cuts and economic reforms including a rise in the retirement age, easier employment laws and privatisations.
Editing by Greg Mahlich