Insight Central Europe News

02-06-2006

Czechs are voting this weekend in parliamentary elections. The campaign has been characterized by fierce exchanges between the ruling Social Democrats and the largest opposition party, the right-wing Civic Democrats. Opinion polls before the vote pointed to a close race, and suggested that smaller parties would hold the balance of power.

The Austrian foreign minister Ursula Plassnik has urged the United States to close its Guantanamo Bay prison for terror suspects. Speaking on behalf of the European Union, of which Austria currently holds the presidency, she told the European Parliament the prison is seen as a cause for concern by EU member states, and called it an "anomaly." The issue is likely to come up when President George Bush visits Vienna on 21st June for an EU-US summit.

Hungary's Socialist Party and the smaller Alliance of Free Democrats have signed a formal coalition pact to form a new government in the wake of April's elections. They pledged to tackle a gaping budget deficit, the highest in the European Union relative to the size of the economy. The Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany, who is to remain in office, said that it would be a government of reform, and would oversee budget cuts and tax rises. Opinion polls suggest that support for the ruling Socialists has risen since the election.

Peace talks in Slovenia's capital Ljubljana, aimed at ending the conflict in the Dafur region of Sudan, have failed to bring agreement. Two Dafur rebel groups refused to sign a peace deal set by the African Union, despite last-minute attempts by the Slovenian President Janez Drnovsek to broker an acceptable deal. Mr Drnovsek said that Slovenia would be willing to continue trying to help find a solution, if actors in negotiations would be ready to prolong the deadline.

Warsaw's conservative city hall will allow a gay pride march in the Polish capital later this month. In recent years the city's leaders have often been criticised for repeatedly rejecting similar requests, and expressing open disapproval of homosexuality. There are fears the march on June 10th could be accompanied by violent clashes, as a rival parade by a nationalist youth group has also been approved on the same day.

The former Slovak Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar, has said that he would be willing to join the left-wing frontrunner for parliamentary elections later this month, Robert Fico, in a ruling coalition. Up to now personal animosity had kept the two men from cooperating. Mr Meciar was often seen as an autocratic leader when he led the country for much of the 1990s, when Slovakia faced international isolation. The current right-wing Prime Minister, Mikulas Dzurinda, has also not ruled out Mr Meciar as a possible coalition partner.

A catamaran service has opened between Vienna and the Slovak capital of Bratislava. The 102 seat boat, called the "Twin City Liner", makes the journey between the two cities in 75 minutes three times a day.

02-06-2006