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Slovenians appear to reject changing water protection law

Andrej Vizjak, Slovenia's minister for environment casts his ballot at a polling station in Brezice, Slovenia, Sunday, July 11, 2021. Slovenians voted in a referendum on changes to the country’s waters management law that is seen as a test for the government of right-wing Prime Minister Janez Jansa. Jansa’s government approved the amendments in March but ecologists have pushed through the referendum saying they threaten the environment by paving the way for construction by the sea, rivers and lakes. (AP Photo)

LJUBLJANA, Slovenia (AP) — Slovenians on Sunday appeared to have overwhelmingly rejected changes to the country’s water management law, according to preliminary results, a development that will be a blow to the country’s right-wing leader.

About 86.5% of people voted against the amendments approved by Prime Minister Janez Jansa’s government in March that ecologists claimed threaten the environment and water quality, according to a the initial count of 94% of ballots released by the state election authorities.

The issue has sparked a heated debate in the small European Union nation of 2 million people known for its stunningly beautiful Alpine scenery. The right to water was enshrined in the country’s constitution in 2016.

At the center of the dispute was a provision regulating the construction of buildings, including hotels, shops and restaurants, close to the sea, rivers or lakes.

While the government insisted it has tightened the construction rules and provided more water and flood protection funds, opponents said the regulations favor the interests of private investors, limit public access to water and jeopardize its quality.

The water dispute has reflected heightened political tensions in Slovenia, where Jansa’s government has faced accusations of curbing democratic and media freedoms in the traditionally liberal nation.