Slovak rivals reach deal to back EU bailout fund

Slovak Social Democrat leader Robert Fico talks to journalists in Bratislava, 12 October Opposition leader Robert Fico has triggered new elections

Political rivals in Slovakia have agreed to support a crucial bill ratifying changes to the EU bailout fund in exchange for early elections.

The bill was defeated in a first vote on Tuesday, after a coalition party and the main opposition abstained.

A second vote is expected by the end of this week after Prime Minister Iveta Radicova's coalition struck the deal with the opposition Social Democrats.

Slovakia is the last eurozone state to vote on ratifying the fund's expansion.

It is proposed to expand the effective lending capacity of the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) to 440bn euros ($600bn; £383bn).

The fund would also be empowered to buy eurozone government debt and offer credit lines to member states and to banks.

Top EU officials urged the country on Wednesday to ratify the bill swiftly.

"We call upon all parties in the Slovak parliament to rise above the positioning of short-term politics and seize the next occasion to ensure a swift adoption of the new agreement," European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said in a joint statement.

March elections

Ms Radicova failed to pass the bill on Tuesday when a junior partner in her coalition, Richard Sulik's free-market Freedom and Solidarity party, refused to back it.

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The feet of many Europeans stamp impatiently but these changes - however desirable - cannot be just nodded through”

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Freedom and Solidarity asked why Slovakia's taxpayers should be asked to help cover the debts of richer countries.

Many Slovaks feel their country - the second poorest in the eurozone - should not have to bail out countries like Greece, correspondents say.

However, the EFSF looks almost certain to pass in the second vote after four parties reached agreement on Wednesday.

"We have reached an agreement on securing the adoption of the most important document of this period - the EU bailout fund," said Robert Fico, head of the Social Democrats.

Slovak Prime Minister Iveta Radicova (left) with former coalition partner Richard Sulik in Bratislava, 10 October Prime Minister Radicova lost the support of former coalition partner Richard Sulik

Earlier, explaining his abstention in the first vote, which helped bring down the government, he said: "We're saying 'no' to a rightist government, but we're saying 'yes' to the rescue fund."

In return for his support, Ms Radicova's coalition agreed to hold snap elections on 10 March, one of her ministers, Mikulas Dzurinda, confirmed.

"We decided that as the first point of [Thursday's] parliamentary session, we will work on a proposal to shorten the voting period, with the goal of organising an election on 10 March," he said.

"Immediately after, tomorrow or Friday, we will debate proposals related to the EFSF."

Correspondents say Mr Fico, a former prime minister, is positioned to do well at the elections because of the unpopularity of the outgoing government's austerity measures.

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