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Slovenia sets presidential election date for October 21

Slovenia will hold new presidential elections on October 21 as the five-year term of President Janez Drnovsek expires, parliament speaker France Cukjati announced Friday.

Drnovsek, 57, said he would not run for the post again. But three prominent public figures - a former Central Bank governor, an ex-assistant to former U.N. Secretary General and a member of the European parliament - have already announced their candidacies.

The elections would be the fourth since the country of 2 million declared independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991. Slovenia joined the European Union and NATO in 2004 and is to take over EU's rotating six-month presidency on Jan. 1, 2008.

All of the three main candidates will run as independents, although each has political backing.

Lojze Peterle, who has been a member of the European parliament since 2004 and enjoys public support from the ruling center-right government, is leading in current surveys. His election would suit Prime Minister Janez Jansa, who has often bickered with Drnovsek, a former Liberal.

Former Central Bank governor Mitja Gaspari - credited with smooth introduction of the euro into Slovenia on Jan. 1 - is also running, backed by the opposition Liberal Democrats.

The third main candidate is Danilo Tuerk, a professor of international law at the Law Faculty in Ljubljana, who served as an assistant to former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan in 2000-2005. He enjoys the support of the opposition Social Democrats.

Analysts predict a smooth changeover and not much change in political life as the Slovenian president's powers are largely ceremonial.

Drnovsek, who was the country's longtime prime minister before becoming president in 2002, has turned from a pragmatic politician to a kind of spiritual leader in the past few years.

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