Insight Central Europe News

25-02-2005

The Slovak capital Bratislava became the focus of world attention on Thursday for a landmark summit between US and Russian Presidents George Bush and Vladimir Putin. Both leaders stressed their close ties and common ground, and Mr Bush said they shared the goal that neither Iran nor North Korea should have nuclear weapons. During talks Mr Bush warned against a backsliding of democracy in Russia, and at a press conference that was described as firm but friendly, Mr Putin asserted that Russia was committed to the democratic path it began fourteen years ago. Addressing a crowd of several thousand, in Bratislava's Hviezdoslav Square, President Bush praised democratic changes in Eastern and Central Europe, and pointed in particular to Slovakia's successful transition to democracy.

The Czech government crisis continues, following the Christian Democrats' call on the Prime Minister, Stanislav Gross, to resign over questions about his family's personal finances. Mr Gross's party, the Social Democrats, have rallied around the prime minister, saying that he has done nothing wrong. Mr Gross accused the Christian Democrats of trying to break the coalition at any cost. The President, Vaclav Klaus, has appealed to both sides to continue working to find a way out of the deadlock.

Poland's Foreign Minister Adam Rotfeld has condemned the release of a Polish edition of Hitler's "Mein Kampf". A small publisher in the southern city of Wroclaw has published an edition of 3,000 copies of the book which sets out Hitler's anti-Semitic, racist and fascist views. The publishers argue that the edition includes an academic introduction and is intended as a warning, and not to promote Hitler's ideas. The government of the German state of Bavaria has also called for the book to be withdrawn.

Eleven people started a hunger strike in an office building in Slovenia's capital Ljubljana on Monday, demanding basic human rights for ethnic minorities. Slovenia removed some 18,000 people from its population records in 1992, a year after declaring independence from the former Yugoslavia. Most were nationals of other Yugoslav republice and the authorities had assumed they had citizenship of other Yugoslav republics although they were living in Slovenia. Last year Slovenians voted in a referendum to reject a law returning residence rights to those who had been removed from the lists.

Saudi Arabia has recalled its ambassador from Hungary after the Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany described the Saudi soccer team as "Arab terrorists". Mr Gyurcsany was quoted in Hungary's media praising the national soccer team for fighting "with death-defying courage" against "Arab terrorists" after they drew 0-0 in a friendly game against Saudi Arabia earlier this month. He later apologised for the comments, made at a private party.

An opinion poll in staunchly Catholic Poland suggests that well over fifty percent of Poles support women's rights to an abortion in the early weeks of pregnancy. In the poll, conducted by the CBOS polling center, just over a third of respondents opposed early abortions, while 7% expressed no opinion. Among the most restrictive in Europe, Poland's current abortion law permits termination only when a pregnancy threatens a woman's life or health, is the result of rape or if the fetus is critically deformed. Earlier this month the parliament refused to consider a new legislative draft which would have allowed abortion on demand in the first few weeks of pregnancy.

The United Nations centre in Vienna is to be renovated at high cost because of asbestos contamination. The Austrian government, which built the centre and rents it to the UN for a nominal sum will cover the 150 million euro cost of renovation. The UN complex dates from the 1970s when asbestos, which is now known to cause cancer, was widely used in construction.

25-02-2005