- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 4, 2004

SLOVAKIA

Referendum fails over low turnout

BRATISLAVA — An opposition-led referendum aimed at forcing early elections in Slovakia looked to have failed yesterday, opening the way for Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda to continue painful reforms just weeks before the country enters the European Union.

The turnout was expected to be around 40 percent. The referendum needs 50 percent to become valid.



The plebiscite coincided with the first round of a two-stage presidential election pitting Vladimir Meciar, an autocrat who drove Slovakia into the diplomatic wilderness during the last decade, against Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan, the man credited with leading it out.

Mr. Kukan emerged with a slight lead in opinion polls in the final days before the vote, but is not expected to get more than the 50 percent needed for an outright win.

SRI LANKA

President’s party leads in vote

COLOMBO — Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s party inched closer to a general election win yesterday, but looked short of a parliamentary majority, complicating efforts to restart peace talks with Tamil rebels.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and Mrs. Kumaratunga have shared an awkward government since he won the last election in 2001, as he controlled Parliament while she had vast powers under the constitution.

Mrs. Kumaratunga called the snap election after accusing Mr. Wickremesinghe of endangering the security of the country by giving away too much to win peace with the rebels.

BURMA

Opposition party to join talks

BANGKOK — Burma’s opposition National League for Democracy will be invited to talks on a new constitution next month with the military rulers, Foreign Minister Win Aung said yesterday. But he denied NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi would be freed from house arrest before the talks get under way on May 17.

The military government, under pressure to show it is sincere about its “road map to democracy,” announced last August, set the date for the constitutional meeting last week.

GERMANY

Thousands protest welfare cuts

BERLIN — Germans turned out in force yesterday to protest their government’s drive to trim the welfare state.

More than 200,000 protesters, blowing whistles and waving union flags, gathered in front of Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate for the biggest rally yet against Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s year-old reform drive. Organizers said turnout nationwide topped 500,000, with big rallies also held in Cologne and Stuttgart.

Germany and other European nations face resistance as they try to reform generous, and expensive, welfare systems as the average age of their populations rise.

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