Premier Mikuláš Dzurinda and Parliamentary Speaker Jozef Migaš assumed presidential powers on Monday 3 July, President Rudolf Schuster having come close to death the previous week when complications arose after bowel surgery. Command of the armed forces passed to Dzurinda, along with the right to grant amnesties and the appointment of ambassadors.
Migaš has assumed the right to approve legislation, while the cabinet has the right to return laws to parliament for revision. The opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) promptly accused Dzurinda of manipulating the situation for his own ends, an accusation which the Premier was quick to deny.
"Nothing dramatic is going on," said Dzurinda. "The point is that the execution of public functions was not endangered for a single moment."
The Health Minister, Tibor Šagát, resigned on Tuesday 4 July following the publication of a report which criticised the medical treatment experienced by President Schuster. The report, by a commission appointed by Šagát and Interior Minister Ladislav Pittner, said Schuster's treatment was not as good as it should have been.
It highlighted poor documentation, the lack of a report on the surgery carried out on the President on 19 June and incomplete use of diagnostic methods such as computer tomography. The report also criticised the manner in which antibiotics were used to treat the 66-year-old patient's abdominal infection.
Premier Dzurinda said Šagát's resignation was a matter of ministerial responsibility and the Health Minister had made no mistakes personally in coordinating the President's treatment. The Director of the Slovak Interior Ministry Hospital has also resigned. The mishandling of Schuster's treatment may result in a criminal investigation.
Rudolf Schuster appears to be responding well to treatment at the hospital in Innsbruck, Austria, where he was transferred last week. He started to gradually regain consciousness on Monday 3 July, after 11 days of artificially induced sleep. On Thursday, he opened his eyes for the first time. Doctors reported no signs of brain damage.
Slovak Telecom (ST) is to be bought by the German telecommunications giant, Deutsche Telekom. The announcement was made in Bratislava on 4 July. The German company's offer of SKK 1 billion is expected to receive Slovak government approval on 12 July. Deutsche Telekom will take control of 51 per cent of ST.
It has pledged to spend over EUR 1 billion on development, including the digitalisation of the telephone network, speeding up installation times and career development for employees.
Belgium is to suspend its visa requirement for Slovak passport holders from 1 August. The legal requirement will remain in place but will not be enforced. Belgium introduced the visa requirement earlier this year as a result of growing numbers of Slovak asylum seekers entering the country. The number of Slovaks seeking asylum in Belgium fell to 21 in May and just seven in June.
The former chief of the Communist-era
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He was sentenced to four years in prison on similar charges by a military court in the Czech Republic in 1992, but used extradition laws and his Slovak citizenship to evade punishment. If found guilty in Slovakia, he could face a prison term of three to ten years.
The Slovak Police announced a nationwide search for Ivan Lexa, the former head of the Slovak Intelligence Service (SIS). Lexa, who holds a diplomatic passport, is suspected of involvement in the 1995 abduction of Michal Kováč Jr, son of the former Slovak President.
The search was mounted after Lexa failed to appear for an obligatory medical appointment. The former SIS director has claimed that medical problems make it impossible for him to cooperate with the authorities investigating the Kováč Jr case.
Robin Sheeran, 8 July 2000
TASR (Press Agency, Slovak Republic)
SITA (Slovak News Agency)
ČTK (Czech News Agency)