Insight Central Europe News

20-02-2004

An Austrian court has acquitted all 16 people who were charged with criminal negligence over the ski train fire that killed 155 people in the resort of Kaprun in November 2000. The judge in Salzburg ruled there was insufficient evidence to find the 16 - train operators, suppliers and inspectors - responsible for the blaze. During the hearings, prosecutors blamed a faulty heater for the tragedy. A funicular train burst into flames in a tunnel, killing skiers from eight countries, and only 12 people escaped. Prosecutors say they'll appeal against the verdict.

Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller is quitting as head of his party, the Democratic Left Alliance. His decision follows an opinion poll which showed the party's support has fallen to as little as 12%. Its support has dropped sharply as budget cuts have been introduced ahead of the country's EU membership in May, aimed at bringing its economy into line with EU requirements. Mr Miller's decision will take effect at a party convention on 6 March but he will stay on as Prime Minister.

Hungary says it remains committed to the mission in Iraq despite its first military casualties. At least ten Hungarian soldiers serving in a 300-strong transport contingent were injured on Wednesday during a suicide bomb attack a Polish army base. Two explosive-laden trucks blew up outside the camp in Al Hillah, 100 kilometres south of Baghdad. It was the first time Hungarian soldiers were injured since their deployment to Iraq last August. 11 Iraqis were killed and 48 other soldiers injured - including 10 poles.

Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla has been taken to hospital after collapsing during a meeting of Social Democrat MPs in parliament on Friday morning. A spokeswoman said Mr Spidla began feeling unwell shortly after 9am and an ambulance was called. His condition is not described as serious, and he should be released later on Friday to rest at home. Mr Spidla, who is 52 and a keen long-distance runner, is not believed to be suffering from any serious health problems. However he has been under severe pressure recently from rebel Social Democrat MPs unhappy with the government's public finance reforms.

Slovak Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan is currently leading the race for presidency. Latest opinion polls show over 26 percent support Kukan - almost 10 percent ahead of incumbent Rudolf Schuster. Former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar is currently second favourite with 22.9 percent. About a dozen candidates are running for the largely ceremonial post April 3, just weeks ahead of Slovakia's planned entry into the European Union.

20-02-2004