LJUBLJANA, Slovenia: Thousands of people rallied for and against Slovenia's center-right government Friday, adding to the tensions in the small European Union country where authorities have turned to austerity measures to revive the economy.
About 5,000 flag-waving pro-government activists gathered at a central square in the capital, Ljubljana, Friday morning. Hours later, around 20,000 people protested against the leadership. It was the largest anti-government rally since the protests started about two months ago.
The pro-government rally was peaceful, but police used tear gas to prevent a group of anti-government protesters from removing metal barriers that separated them from the downtown parliament building. Two people were arrested, police said.
Slovenia's government has been on the brink of collapse after two junior partners left the ruling coalition over corruption allegations against Prime Minister Janez Jansa. An anti-graft watchdog has accused him of failing to declare more than €200,000 ($265,000) in private assets, which he has denied.
Jansa has refused to step down, insisting that an election now would hurt Slovenia's efforts to pull out of an economic and financial downturn that is linked to the EU debt crisis. Jansa's government has cut public spending, including for health care and education, moves it says will keep the country from needing an international bailout.
But Jansa's measures have been met with massive protests and strikes that have sometimes turned violent in the otherwise calm Alpine country of 2 million. The anti-government protesters insist that the cost-cutting is hurting the middle class and the poor, but not the "corrupt elite."
The second crowd on Friday chanted "Thieves!" and waved anti-government banners as it marched through downtown Ljubljana. Several young music bands joined the demonstrators, who put a banner reading "Our property" on the Central Bank building.
Earlier, in a video address broadcast during the pro-government rally, Jansa said he was the victim of "lies, deceit and propaganda" by unidentified left-leaning groups, which had "robbed our country" in the past.
His supporters unveiled a huge Slovenian flag and played national folk songs.
"We are here because we care about this country," said Franc Mihar, a 33-year-old protester from the town of Kranj.