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Hungarian president calls off tense Slovak visit

BRATISLAVA (Reuters) - Hungarian President Laszlo Solyom canceled a private visit to Slovakia Friday after Bratislava called the trip a provocation, in fresh escalation of tensions between the two European Union and NATO members.

Hungary's President Laszlo Solyom walks on a bridge that connects Komarom in Hungary with Komarno in Slovakia, August 21, 2009. REUTERS/Viktor Veres

Slovakia sent a note to its southern neighbor Friday, saying Solyom was not welcome in the central European country on August 21, the 41st anniversary of the Soviet-led invasion of what was then Czechoslovakia.

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico said Solyom’s visit was inappropriate because the Hungarian army formed part of the invasion troops.

Solyom had been invited by the local authority of a mostly ethnically Hungarian town to attend the unveiling of a statue.

“The president, the chairman of parliament and the prime minister of Slovakia have condemned the circumstances in which the Hungarian president chose to stress Hungarian statehood on sovereign Slovak soil,” Fico told a news conference.

“The private trip, with a planned public speech, is considered a provocation, and, in such circumstances, the Hungarian president is an unwelcome person in Slovakia on August 21,” Fico added. He said Solyom could come on any other day.

The incident showed rising tensions between Bratislava and Budapest, which have had frequent diplomatic clashes about the treatment of the ethnic Hungarian minority which makes up 10 percent of Slovakia’s 5.4 million population.

Budapest ruled over Slovakia within the Austro-Hungarian empire until its break-up after World War One.

Relations between the two ex-communist states worsened after Fico brought the rightist Slovak National Party (SNS), known for harsh rhetoric against minorities, into his ruling coalition following elections in 2006.

Solyom criticized the Slovak position.

“This is an unprecedented measure which is inexplicable in the relations of two allied states, and for which no excuse can be found, particularly the justification that my presence would mean a security risk,” Solyom told journalists.

In March, Romania withdrew the landing permit for Solyom’s plane when he was planning to take part in the celebrations of the March 15 Hungarian national day by ethnic Hungarians in Romania.

The decision caused a diplomatic spat between the two countries, and Solyom eventually arrived by car in the neighboring EU member which is home to about 1.5 million ethnic Hungarians.

Reporting by Peter Laca and Sandor Peto; editing by Robin Pomeroy