Insight Central Europe News

24-02-2006

The presence of bird flu has been confirmed in Slovakia. This follows tests on two dead wild birds that were found last week in the south-west of the country, close to the Hungarian border. Cases of the virus have already been found in Hungary, and a first case has now also been detected in Slovenia.

In the meantime, as EU health ministers met in Vienna, Austria's Health Minister Maria Rauch-Kallat said that many countries were still not well enough prepared to deal with the disease. Ten European countries, eight of them EU members, have so far reported cases of the H5N1 strain of bird flu.

The Hungarian firm Omnivest has said that its vaccine against the H5N1 virus is in the final phase of clinical trials and has proved effective on humans. A company spokesman said that the vaccine could get a temporary licence for Hungary from early March, and that that there has been interest from abroad.

A Polish-funded radio station has begun broadcasting into neighbouring Belarus. Organisers of the station, called Radio Truth, say that it will bring uncensored news, music and talk shows to a market tightly controlled by the government of President Alexander Lukashenko. With presidential elections in Belarus just weeks away, Poland has expressed open support for opposition candidate Alexander Milinkevich.

In a separate development the Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda has dismissed claims by the Belarusian authorities that the Czech Republic has been deliberately trying to feed unrest in the run-up to the presidential elections. Belarus accused the Czechs of distributing opposition leaflets. The Czech foreign minister has been outspoken in criticizing Lukashenko government's human rights record.

The Austrian Ski Federation president Peter Schröcksnadel has been questioned by an Italian prosecutor over the possible use of illegal substances by Austria's athletes at the Turin Winter Olympics. Austria and the IOC are both carrying out investigations after raids on the team's biathletes and cross-country skiers. Police confiscated syringes, medication and other material. Austrian chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel described the doping scandal as "difficult and bitter", and stressed there should be zero tolerance over drug abuse.

Russia has returned an antique book collection to Hungary that was taken by Soviet troops during World War Two. Observers have interpreted the move as an attempt to warm relations with Hungary ahead of President Vladimir Putin's visit to the country next week. The 136 medieval volumes belong to the Sarospatak Protestant College's library, and they arrived in sealed boxes late on Wednesday after a decade of talks between Hungary and Russia. The books will be exhibited in the National Museum in Budapest.

24-02-2006