Sun, Aug 23, 2009 - Page 6 News List

Hungary, Slovakia in war of words as president is barred

AFP , BUDAPEST

Hungary and Slovakia stepped up a bitter war of words on Friday as Hungarian President Laszlo Solyom was forced to cancel a private visit after Bratislava said it would bar him from entering.

Standing half-way across a bridge over the Danube, on the border between the two countries, Solyom told reporters he would not travel to Slovakia.

“We have received the note of the Slovakian ministry of foreign affairs in which they forbid me personally entering Slovakia until midnight,” he said.

Slovakia had repeatedly criticized Solyom’s planned trip to a border town because it had been due to take place on the very day the country remembers an invasion by Soviet-led troops, among them Hungarians.

Aug. 21 is remembered in Slovakia as the day in 1968 when what was then Czechoslovakia was occupied by Warsaw Pact troops to crush the “Prague Spring” reform drive by the country’s communist leadership.

“This is a situation unheard of, inexcusable and unexplainable in the relationship of two allied countries,” Solyom said. “It is especially so because of the reasoning behind the ban: that my presence would mean a security threat.”

Solyom had been due to attend the unveiling of a statue of Stephen, a medieval king of Hungary, in the town of Komarno, just over the border.

The Hungarian town of Komarom lies on the southern bank of the River Danube, which marks the two countries’ border.

Hungarians make up 10 percent of Slovakia’s population of 5.4 million people, mostly living along the frontier.

“Komarno lies in Slovakia’s territory, it’s not a Hungarian town,” Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico told reporters earlier on Friday.

Solyom would be welcome at any other time, he said, but coming on Aug. 21 was “mere provocation.”

Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Balazs described the ban as “unprecedented and unacceptable” and said Budapest would raise the matter with the EU.

“The president’s visit had been carefully planned, together with the Slovakian foreign ministry,” he said on Hungarian public TV.

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