Thousands rally against Slovenian PM ahead of EU presidency

LJUBLJANA, Slovenia — Thousands rallied in Slovenia’s capital Friday against right-wing Prime Minister Janez Jansa, reflecting mounting pressure on the government weeks before the country takes over the European Union’s rotating presidency.

Some 20,000 people gathered at a central Ljubljana square to demand that the government step down and early elections be held. Several workers’ unions and opposition parties joined the demonstration.

Critics accuse Jansa of assuming increasingly authoritarian ways similar to those of his ally, Hungary’s hardline Prime Minister Viktor Orban. They claim that Jansa’s government has pressured Slovenian media and spurred hate speech, while mishandling the coronavirus crisis and curbing social dialogue in the traditionally moderate Alpine nation.

Jansa, a veteran politician who has served twice in the past as prime minister, has dismissed the accusations as a leftist conspiracy. Earlier this week, he survived an impeachment motion filed by the opposition in parliament.

Jansa came to power last year after the previous, liberal prime minister stepped down. He is also known for prematurely congratulating former U.S. President Donald Trump while vote count was still underway during the presidential election last November.

The protesters on Friday shouted “Elections now,” waving Slovenian and labor union flags and banners. One banner read “Death to Fascism, Freedom for all.”

Many participants wore face masks in line with pandemic rules.

Pija Zorman said she came to Ljubljana for the protest from Kranj, about 25 kilometers (15 miles) away. The 29-year-old said she joined the rally because of “lack of perspective.”

“We, the young people, are ignored,” said Zorman.

Slovenia is set to assume the presidency of the 27-member EU in July. Jansa has come under EU scrutiny over allegations of media pressure in the country, including abolishing state funding for Slovenia’s only news agency, the STA.