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Slovenia Votes on NATO, EU Membership - 2003-03-23

The tiny former Yugoslav republic of Slovenia are voting on whether to join NATO and the European Union. But concern about the U.S.-led war in Iraq has made the outcome regarding NATO membership uncertain.

More than 12 years after Slovenia broke away from Yugoslavia, surveys show that many Slovenians do not want to belong to another defense alliance.

Pro-NATO feeling was only briefly bolstered by apparent fears of fresh Balkan instability after the killing of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic on March 12.

But analysts say concern about the war in Iraq has further dramatically reduced support for NATO membership among Slovenians.

As voters went to the polls to decide on NATO and European Union membership in a referendum, surveys predicted a narrow victory for NATO-membership, with 16 percent still undecided.

These developments have underscored an impression that, unlike other ex-Communist countries, Slovenia feels more confident to go its own way. The country of just two million people is one of the most prosperous nations in the region.

Recently-elected President Janez Drnovsek urged his nation to vote for NATO membership, saying that inside the defense alliance "Slovenia will be more secure." Mr. Drnovsek has also said that "the advantages of NATO membership are much larger than its potential weaknesses."

Pollsters are more optimistic about the approval of EU accession, with the latest surveys showing more than 80 percent of Slovenians support EU membership. Slovenia is one of 10 mainly former Communist countries that are expected to join the EU in 2004. NATO hopes to take in seven states, including Slovenia, next year.

Unofficial results of the voting are expected late Sunday.