Ljubljana, Sept 14 (AP/UNB) — Slovenia's new prime minister used to make people laugh. Handling the disparate demands of his five-party coalition government is unlikely to leave much time for jokes.
Once a satirist who impersonated prominent politicians, Marjan Sarec has taken the helm of a largely centrist government — a rare phenomenon, at least recently, in Central Europe where populists have been on the march from Italy to Poland.
Sarec, who has become Slovenia's youngest ever premier at 40, will face a tough job keeping the minority government afloat. After all, the government's majority in parliament is slim and the right-wing opposition is not going to give Sarec a honeymoon in office.
Enacting too many reforms is not going to be easy in that environment and that could potentially lead to disgruntlement in a country of just 2 million people.
The tight parliamentary arithmetic was evident Thursday when the new government was narrowly endorsed. Only half the 90-member backed the government, just enough to keep away from power the anti-immigrant allies of Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
Analysts warned it is too early to say whether the elevation of a moderate government spells a turning point in the region.
"At stake now is Europe, more than Slovenia," said Janez Markes, an analyst for the Delo newspaper. "Slovenia at this moment, I hate to say it, is not part of the problem."
The success of the new government could depend heavily on whether Sarec, who gave up a successful acting career when he first entered politics, proves he is up to the task.
Sarec served twice as the mayor of his native Kamnik, in central Slovenia before gaining prominence when he forced a presidential runoff vote last year against veteran politician Borut Pahor.
"It is easier to observe from the side and criticize than to do something," Sarec said Thursday in parliament. "It is time to start working now."
One of the mainstays of Sarec's act was impersonating former prime minister, Janez Jansa, who is now his main right-wing opponent.
With a group of young artists, Sarec hosted a satirical radio show dubbed 'Radio Ga Ga' that was popular throughout Slovenia in the 1990s. Some of his performances show Sarec altering his voice to mock politicians' accents, singing or screaming with a kitchen cloth on his head as an alternative poet.
Saso Hribar, a journalist who worked with Sarec, says he remembers the new prime minister as highly professional and considers him thoroughly prepared for his any of his roles.
"Sarec blew up a good private business when he gave up acting," Hribar quipped.
As the new prime minister, Sarec is certain to face strong opposition from Jansa's Slovenian Democratic Party, which won most votes at June 3 election, but not enough to form the government.
Linked to Hungary's Orban, Jansa "will try to do anything to subvert this government," said Darko Strajn, the head of Alternative Academy think tank.
However, Strajn said Sarec is a political "personality in the making," and his readiness to compromise and his negotiating prowess to form the 5-party coalition, should serve him well.
Berlin, Sep 13 (AP/UNB) — Germany's interior minister says Italy has agreed to take back migrants who show up at the German-Austrian border after previously applying for asylum in Italy.
Interior Minister Horst Seehofer told parliament Thursday that a deal with Italy has been agreed but that it still needs to be signed.
He didn't give further details but he has previously said that in return for Italy taking back previous asylum applicants, Germany would take in a similar number of migrants rescued at sea.
Germany has already signed similar agreements with Greece and Spain.
In June, Seehofer threatened to turn back migrants previously registered elsewhere unilaterally at the border. Chancellor Angela Merkel insisted Germany must reach agreements with other countries.
Skopje, Sep 13 (AP/UNB) — Western leaders have scheduled more visits to Macedonia ahead of an upcoming referendum that would change the country's name and get it fast-tracked for NATO membership.
European Union foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Wess Mitchell plan to be there Thursday.
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has a weekend stop planned. The referendum on changing the country's name to North Macedonia is scheduled for Sept. 30.
If voters back the new name, Greece has agreed to stop blocking Macedonia from joining NATO. The Macedonia name has been a source of tension between the neighboring nations for decades.
Greece has a region named Macedonia, and said the use of the same name by the small former Yugoslav republic to its north could imply a claim to the territory and ancient heritage of the Greek province.
The Macedonian government, led by center-left Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, launched its referendum campaign earlier this week, urging people to support the new name. Zaev negotiated the agreement with the Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.
Macedonia's conservative opposition vehemently opposes the agreement with Greece, saying it was a national humiliation.
The opposition leader, Hristijan Mickoski, reiterated those objections Wednesday but told supporters to vote "with their conscience."
Westerns governments have been vocal in their support of the deal. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel were in Macedonia's capital, Skopje, last week to urge voters to support the name change.
At a Pentagon briefing Tuesday, Defense Secretary Mattis told reporters he was concerned about alleged acts of "mischief" by Russia to try to block Macedonia's path to NATO membership.
Russia denies claims of interference, but openly opposes NATO expansion eastward.
Kosovo's President Hashim Thaci endorsed the "yes" campaign at a meeting with Zaev, saying the referendum was "an historic moment that needs to be seized."
Bucharest, Sep 12(AP/UNB) — Romanian Senators approved a measure that could pave the way for the constitution to be changed to explicitly state that marriage is a union of a man and a woman.
Senators on Tuesday voted 107-13 with seven abstentions to allow a referendum that could change the constitution, which currently states that marriage is a union between "spouses." The vote comes after Parliament's Chamber of Deputies last year overwhelmingly approved the same measure.
The vote comes after 3 million Romanians signed a petition demanding that the constitution be changed to redefine marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
Social Democrat chairman Liviu Dragnea has indicated Romania will hold a referendum on the issue in October.
A senator for the ruling Social Democratic Party, Serban Nicolae, said the vote was on religious grounds: "we've been a Christian nation for 2,000 years."
Accept, a Romanian group that fights for equality for same-sex couples, condemned the vote, accusing the Senate of "raising homophobia to state value and sacrificing constitutional protection for many families."
While the ruling could limit the definition of marriage, it would not preclude a law that would recognize same-sex civil partnerships.
Romania, along with Poland, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Lithuania and Latvia, doesn't recognize same-sex marriage or offer legal protection to same-sex couples.
Dhaka, Sep 11 (Dhaka) - Russia has launched its biggest military exercise since the Cold War, involving about 300,000 service personnel, in eastern Siberia.
China is sending 3,200 troops to take part in "Vostok-2018", with many Chinese armoured vehicles and aircraft. Mongolia is also sending some units, reports BBC.
The last Russian exercise of similar scale was in 1981, during the Cold War, but Vostok-2018 involves more troops.
The week-long manoeuvres come at a time of heightened Nato-Russia tensions.
As the exercises began, Russian President Vladimir Putin met his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping at a forum in the eastern city of Vladivostok and told him "we have a trusting relationship in the sphere of politics, security and defence".
Relations between Russia and Nato - a 29-member defence alliance dominated by the US - have worsened since Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the drills were justified given "aggressive and unfriendly" attitudes towards Russia.