Tiny EU nation Slovenia sees more protests against corruption, budget cuts and tax hikes

Slovenia's prime minister is on trial accused of involvement in a bribery scandal. The main opposition leader — who is also mayor of the capital — is under investigation for alleged corruption. So is the mayor of the EU nation's second-largest city.

Slovenes say they have had enough.

Chanting "Thieves!" several thousand people took to the streets again Monday in this small, crisis-hit Alpine state, rejecting what they call the country's "corrupt elite." Thousands also took to the streets last week in what has become biggest outburst of public discontent in decades, outrages that has seriously shaken the nation once praised for its smooth transition from communism to market economy.

Angry demonstrators in the second-largest city of Maribor on Monday pelted the mayor's office with rocks, bottles and flares, while riot police brought in reinforcements and flew a helicopter above the crowd. Police skirmished with about two dozen hooligans, and witnesses said several were arrested.

In the capital of Ljubljana, several thousand protesters marched through the city center, carrying banners and chanting anti-government slogans a day after left-leaning former prime minister Borut Pahor won the presidential runoff with some 67 percent of the votes. Balloting was marked by a low turnout.

Another peaceful rally of about 2,000 people was held Monday in the eastern town of Celje.

Faced with a recession and plummeting living standards, many in this country of 2 million feel that they — and not the politicians — are taking the burden of the government's budget cuts and tax hikes, moves designed to avoid an international bailout.

"The little man has a feeling that all politicians do is quarrel and steal," said analyst Vlado Miheljak. "People here have never felt so insecure."

One of the figures facing public discontent is right-leaning Prime Minister Janez Jansa, who is on trial with several others in an alleged bribery scheme to secure a deal for a Finnish arms company during a previous term as the head of government in 2004-2008.

Jansa's main opponent Zoran Jankovic, who is the mayor of Ljubljana, also faces a graft probe in a multimillion deal over the building of a sports complex there.

Both have denied the accusations as political.

The protests first started in the city of Maribor last week, where citizens had been furious for months at Mayor Franc Kangler, who is under investigation by anti-graft authorities in a suspicious consulting deal.

Citizens were angry that Kangler allowed a private company to set up cameras all over the city and collect money from speeding tickets instead of directing it into the city budget.

"We are fed up, all of us," said 36-year-old kinder garden teacher Leon Kores, whose salary has been slashed as part of austerity measures. "It's has come up to our necks and rising."

Kores' wife Mihaela works in a school in Ljubljana. Her salary has been slashed too and the couple say further cuts would be too much.

Slovenia's politicians have rejected allegations of corruption, putting the blame for Slovenia's economic woes on the global downturn.

Jansa is pushing for pension and labor reforms, but some of the changes needed to restart the economy have been stalled by political bickering

New president Pahor has called for unity so that Slovenia could feel a "new hope" in the face of the crisis.


Ali Zerdin and Radul Radovanovic in Ljubljana, and Darko Bandic in Maribor contributed to this report.