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Crowds rally as Slovenia's bruised PM fights to keep office

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Thousands of opponents and supporters of Slovenia's embattled Prime Minister Janez Jansa held noisy rival rallies Friday as the small eurozone member's political crisis rumbled on.

Organisers said about 12,000 people attended the pro-Jansa event in Ljubljana's central Congress Square on Friday morning, though police estimated there were about 9,000 present.

Police said an anti-Jansa demo held later on attracted some 20,000 people.

"We've been pushed to the point at which we will have to act firmly against this leftist fascism, against threats, violence and chaos," Jansa, attending a European Union summit in Brussels, told the flag-waving crowd in a pre-recorded speech.

"This is just the beginning, we will have to gather more often and show our strength."

Jansa is fighting to stay in office at the head of a government with just 36 seats in the 90-seat parliament after two parties withdrew from the coalition, the latest on Tuesday.

They abandoned the centre-right Jansa after Slovenia's corruption watchdog levelled accusations of tax irregularities against the premier in January. A third party has also threatened to quit if Jansa does not resign.

Jansa, already on trial over an allegedly dodgy defence deal, has rejected the new accusations and said he intends to stay in office.

Jansa's lack of support in parliament makes it tough for him to implement austerity cuts and the deep structural reforms needed to pull the two-million-strong country out of recession.

Problems at Slovenia's banks, struggling under a mountain of bad debts, have raised speculation that the former Yugoslav republic, once a model newcomer to the European Union, may need a bailout.

A 52-year-old jobless demonstrator from Ljubljana, Irena, told AFP at the pro-Jansa demo that she came to express her patriotic feelings and "for that Slovenia we got in the 1990s when we declared independence (from Yugoslavia)."

"I'm not a rightist, I'm a patriot, for Slovenia and for me and my children getting a job," she said, adding that she was afraid the situation in Slovenia was worsening "and could, horribly, end in a civil war."

Joze Krev, a 55-year-old hotel owner from the northern Slovenian region of Koroska, said he thought the corruption allegations against Jansa were politically motivated and that he was protesting "to show my patriotism, back Jansa."

"I believe Jansa will resist. If not, the next elections will show," Krev said.

At the later anti-Jansa protest, demonstrators marched from Congress Square, blocking for over an hour traffic on Ljubljana's central Slovenska street, carrying banners that read "Thieves", "He's finished", "Jansa: the last dictator in Europe and the Balkans."

Protesters waved Slovenian flags but also flags from the former Yugoslavia and others with communist insignia, whistling loudly and shouting slogans.

A 33-year-old unemployed doctor of genetics Zala Prevolsek, holding a banner that urged "all the political elite to leave", said she joined the protest to call for the "resignation of all corrupt politicians."

Another protester, 60-year-old pensioner Marta, told AFP she had come "to protest against the government."

"Changes will come," she added.

The anti-government protest was the third called by a Facebook group created calling for Jansa's resignation. It now has over 18,000 followers.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130208/crowds-rally-slovenias-bruised-pm-fights-keep-office