Hungarian President Laszlo Solyom will visit Romania on Monday and Tuesday, the first such visit a Hungarian head of state pays to Romania officially. His visit comes as a referendum is under way in three Romanian counties to provide more autonomy to ethnic Hungarians there.

According to a Romanian Presidency press release, his visit will include talks with his Romanian counterpart Traian Basescu on bilateral cooperation within the EU, the protection of national minorities and the evolution in Western Balkans and the Black Sea region.

And Solyom will visit the Transylvanian cities of Targu Mures and Cluj Napoca, which have a large Hungarian minority, for talks with local officials there.

The visit comes as the National Szeklers Council (CNS) is organizing a referendum in the counties of Covasna, Harghita and Mures, which have a large Szekler (ethnic Hungarians living in Romania) population, on a plan to demand extended autonomy for the region.

The referendum started on Saturday and is due to conclude on February 18.

Council representatives quoted by Radio Romania said that while the referendum was not official it was aimed at proving the interest in self-determination among Hungarians living in the three counties.

But the referendum has sparked renewed disputes between the Szeklers Council and the Hungarian Democrats-UDMR, the main political force representing Hungarians in Romania, who has accused the CNS of splitting the Hungarian electorate here.

And many political groups and NGOs in the area have protested the referendum and questioned the real interests behind it.