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Slovaks rally against high-level corruption

Associated Press

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia (AP) – Police fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of radical protesters following a peaceful rally in Slovakia’s capital to protest high-level corruption Friday, a day before a parliamentary election.

More than 1,000 Slovaks took to the streets of Bratislava and hundreds others rallied in major cities on Friday. The organizers called on fellow protesters and other Slovaks not to vote for the established political parties, which they say have been tainted by scandal.

After the demonstration in Bratislava, about 300 protesters threw stones, eggs and bananas at riot police, who prevented them from storming parliament and used tear gas to repel the crowd. At least a dozen protesters were detained by police.

In December, a file known as “Gorilla” _ allegedly compiled by the country’s SIS spy agency _ appeared on the Internet suggesting the financial group Penta had bribed government and opposition politicians in 2005-06 to win lucrative privatization deals.

Police are investigating the allegations, but SIS has not confirmed the document’s authenticity. Penta and the politicians named have denied wrongdoing.

“I never experienced anything like that in my entire life,” Jozef Granec, 86, said about the scandal. “I have to survive on a pension of euro330 ($435) a month.”

According to the file, one former economy minister is said to have received the equivalent of euro10 million ($13 million) for his assistance, among other allegations

Analysts have predicted that Slovaks could turn out in record low numbers of just 40 percent to register their anger.

Tom Nicholson, who wrote a book about the file, said it was not a solution.

“Rather than staying at home and complaining I think it’s very important that people get out and cast ballots,” Nicholson told the AP.

A court has banned the book’s publication at Penta’s request, a decision which Nicholson has appealed and expects a decision on his case later this month or in early April.

He said he hoped police were in a position to file the first charges in the “Gorilla” case as soon as next week.

“I know people feel frustrated, angry and disgusted but it looks like the mess is starting to be cleaned up, which is a good thing.”

The scandal has rocked the already-raucous world of Slovak politics and outgoing Prime Minister Iveta Radicova’s Slovak Democratic and Christian Union, whose free-market reforms earned the country NATO and EU membership, looks likely to be hardest hit by the allegations.

Her party was also in power in 2005-06.

Polls suggested it was almost certain a populist left-leaning former leader, Robert Fico, who was in opposition at the time, will return to power Saturday.

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