Slovenia’s health minister steps down amid virus pandemic

LJUBLJANA, Slovenia (AP) — Slovenia’s health minister resigned Friday after his party left the country’s ruling center-right coalition, a blow to Prime Minister Janez Jansa during the coronavirus pandemic.

Tomaz Gantar said he was stepping down after his Democratic Party of Pensioners, or DESUS, announced it was pulling out of the coalition government in protest of Jansa’s populist policies.

The prime minister has faced accusations of pressuring the media and curbing criticism in the traditionally liberal European Union nation. He has denied the accusations.

It was not immediately clear who will become health minister. Jansa said he would temporarily run the Health Ministry. The remaining coalition parties still appeared to hold a slight parliamentary majority.

Jansa’s government was formed in March following the resignation of Slovenia’s previous, liberal prime minister, Marjan Sarec.

Jansa is a close ally of populist Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and a staunch opponent of immigration. He spurred criticism by publicly backing the reelection of U.S. President Donald Trump while vote counting was still underway.

DESUS party leader Karl Erjavec, a former Slovenian foreign minister, cited what he described as “huge pressure” from Jansa’s party on “all important sub-systems” as the reason for the Pensioners Party’s move.

“We do not want ‘Orbanization’ of Slovenia, an autocratic system and the people to be afraid,” he said, according to Slovenia’s public broadcaster. He was referring to Hungarian Prime Minister Orban, whose government has received scrutiny from the European Union.

Slovenia has reported a slight slowdown in new coronavirus infections following weeks of soaring case numbers. Authorities have imposed a curfew and other anti-virus measures.

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