Former Slovak President Michal Kovac waves to anti-government demonstrators protesting against the policies of Slovak Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar in Bratislava
BRATISLAVA (Reuters) - Slovakia's parliament on Wednesday cancelled amnesties granted by former prime minister Vladimir Meciar to his secret service chief and 12 others for the 1995 kidnapping of the then president's son, paving the way for a fresh probe.
The vote follows last week's constitutional amendment that allows parliament to revoke the pardons. Many politicians have condemned them but long insisted they were irrevocable.
Many Slovaks see the pardons as a state-sponsored crime that went unpunished and a symbol of the country's slide from democratic rule under Meciar. Cancelling the amnesties will allow prosecutors to resume investigating the abduction.
A movie based on the kidnapping of former president Michal Kovac's son - also named Michal - has already become the most popular Slovak film ever.
The cancellation, backed by 129 out of 150 lawmakers, will have to be confirmed by the Constitutional Court within 60 days.
"This step allows us to come to terms with the ill-conceived legacy of Meciar amnesties," leftist Prime Minister Robert Fico said before the vote. Meciar was a junior coalition partner in Fico's first government in 2006-2010.
"The time has come and political will has occurred to remove this stigma of Slovak politics," added Fico, who refused to back the cancellation efforts in the past but made a U-turn last month to meet public demands.
An opinion poll in February showed 63 percent of Slovaks want the amnesties cancelled. More than 84,000 have signed an online petition, a record for Slovakia.
Kovac was a symbol of resistance to Meciar, under whose rule Slovakia was denied an initial invitation to join the EU and NATO along with its central European post-communist neighbours.
Madeleine Albright, then the United States Secretary of State, called the country "the black hole of Europe".
Meciar denied any responsibility for the kidnapping last month.
While he was interim president after Kovac's term expired in 1998, Meciar granted amnesties preventing prosecution of 13 people, including his close ally who was head of the country's secret service (SIS), suspected to have kidnapped Kovac's son to Austria, where he was dumped outside a police station.
A secret service agent who gave evidence on the case fled abroad fearing for his life. A friend who helped him escape died when his car was blown up in 1996.
When Kovac died last October, current President Andrej Kiska urged lawmakers to cancel the amnesties.
(Reporting by Tatiana Jancarikova; Editing by Stephen Powell)