The far-right Slovak National Party (SNS) has outraged Roma with election posters suggesting they abuse the welfare state, straining ethnic relations in the run-up to a general election.
Posters for the SNS show a dark-skinned man with tattoos and a golden necklace, accompanied by the slogan "Do not feed those who do not want to work".
The SNS, a government coalition partner of Prime Minister Robert Fico, has been running low in opinion polls before the June 12 vote.
SNS leader Jan Slota's campaign was "disgusting", Frantisek Tanko of the Union of Slovak Roma told reporters. "We hear nothing from Mr Slota but 'Roma are dirty and steal'."
Up to 10 percent of Slovakia's 5.4 million people are Roma. Most live on the margins of society in squalid settlements with limited access to education, electricity and running water. In many communities, unemployment runs at well over 50 percent.
The euro zone member was criticised by U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay in March for eroding the treatment of Roma.
The SNS has frequently criticised both the Roma and the country's half-million-strong Hungarian minority.
Slovak media firm euroAWK, a unit of Germany's media group AWK whose ad space was used for the campaign, said it would cover up all 29 of the controversial posters in the region of the capital Bratislava. Other firms continued to place the posters in other regions.
The SNS said the billboard referred to all Slovaks exploiting the welfare system.
"Those who scream the man on the billboard is Roma, or a Gypsy, are racists. How did you come to the conclusion he's a Gypsy?" party Vice-Chairwoman Anna Belousovova said.
Fico, whose leftist SMER party is seen as the election front-runner, said last month that boarding schools were the only way to break a cycle of exclusion in which most Roma grow up without any hope of joining mainstream society.
ReutersLast Mod: 06 Mayıs 2010, 20:12