Slovakia adopts the euro
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Slovakia celebrates the New Year with a difference, as the day also marks its adoption of the euro currency, exactly 10 years after the currency was first introduced. It is the 16th country to join the eurozone.
AFP - Slovakia adopted the euro as of Thursday to become the 16th member of the eurozone, exactly ten years after the single European currency was introduced.
Slovaks are dropping the national currency, the koruna, 16 years after the former Czechoslovak federation split amicably in 1993.
"A farewell can also be beautiful, as a Slovak song says, and this is what we are experiencing today," Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico said before withdrawing 100 euros in 20-euro notes from a cash machine in the parliament building.
About 100,000 people, including a number of tourists, gathered in Bratislava's main square for a euro ceremony crowned with midnight fireworks dominated by blue and yellow, the colours of the European Union.
"Many people are already paying in euros," said a 24-year-old vendor named Lucia, charging 1.5 euros for a cup of hot punch or wine.
Nearby, two 18-year-old students, David Prievozsky and Laco Hlavaty, were selling kisses for a euro each among a crowd of partying people sporting flashing headbands, hats and colourful wigs.
On the Danube embankment, thousands of people gathered near a large stage under a huge 2009 logo in which the euro signs replaced the zeros. Another euro sign, made of yellow balloons, flew in the sky above.
The crowd danced to music played by a gipsy band called Ciganski diabli (Gypsy Devils), which framed Aram Khachaturian's Sabre Dance and Johann Strauss's The Blue Danube with Beethoven's Ode to Joy, the EU anthem.
Fico's left-leaning government is hoping the single European currency will shield the country from the current financial crisis and help it maintain its rapid economic growth.
The former communist country, which launched the euro adoption process after joining the EU 2004, was lucky enough to complete the euro talks before the crisis struck in September, and to obtain a favourable exchange rate of 30.126 korunas per euro.
Slovakia has opted for a "Big-Bang scenario" with a dual circulation period shortened to two weeks, which means shops will accept korunas until January 16 but they will return only the new euro notes and coins featuring the Slovak cross, Bratislava castle and Mount Krivan.
Slovak authorities believe most of the cash will be swapped in the first week of 2009, according to the official website www.euromena.sk.
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