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Slovenia's Trade with Libya on Hold as Protests Escalate

Ljubljana, 22 February (STA) - Slovenia's trade with Libya has seen a mini renaissance in recent years as ties forged in the times of the former Yugoslavia have been revived, but the escalating protests that are threatening to topple autocratic leader Muammar al-Gaddafi have put trade on hold.

"Libyan businessmen cannot leave the country and Slovenian businessmen cannot go there. All we can do is wait," Esad Ajeti, a spokesman for the Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GZS), told the STA on Tuesday.

Goods trade amounted to EUR 80m last year, down from EUR 82m in the year before. Trade peaked in 2008, when it surged from just a few million in the years before to EUR 150m.

Oil represents the bulk of imports from Libya (worth EUR 41m last year), while Slovenia mostly exports wood and iron products.

The revival in trade prompted the government of Prime Minister Borut Pahor to visit Libya in 2009 with a strong business delegation in a bid to secure deals for the ailing construction sector.

Many contracts were promised and several signed, but many were put on the back burner and even those that started are now on hold.

Engineering company Neimar Invest had signed contracts for construction of a EUR 110m housing development in Sirt and a children's hospital in the capital Tripoli worth EUR 40m.

Director Safet Brcvak told the STA that the projects are on hold due to the current circumstances and their fate uncertain. But he also acknowledged that his company has yet to obtain bank guarantees.

This suggests a broader problem for Slovenian companies that has nothing to do with the protests but with inability to get bank guarantees due to mounting problems in the industry and rampant insolvency.

"The unrest in Libya is not the reason why there are no deals for Slovenian construction companies in Libya," the GZS's Ajeti said.

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