Insight Central Europe News

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Central European states differ over Hamas freeze

The European Union decision to suspend aid to the Hamas-led Palestinian government has exposed differences in the views of Central European countries. The foreign minister of Austria, currently presiding over the EU, Ursula Plassnik stressed that despite the freeze, essential lower-level contacts would remain. The Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel said the EU needed to keep lines of communication open with a democratically elected government, but his Czech counterpart Cyril Svoboda disagreed, saying Hamas was on the list of organisations which support terrorism. Before the suspension the EU was the main donor to the Palestinian Authority.

Polish priest apologises over anti-Semitic broadcasts

A Polish Catholic priest has apologised for allowing the broadcast of anti-Semitic statements on Radio Maryja, part of a powerful religious media empire he runs. Father Tadeusz Rydzyk said that the station had not meant to hurt anyone's feelings. Radio Maryja, which is close to the ruling Law and Justice party, was recently rebuked by the Vatican for not respecting the church's political neutrality, and it has also been criticised by numerous human rights organisations.

Hungary's opposition weakened

Hungary's right-of centre opposition party Fidesz has suffered a blow in the run-up to the second round of parliamentary elections in a week's time. A smaller right wing party, the Democratic Forum has rejected an alliance with Fidesz, saying that it cannot accept planned tax reforms. This leaves the ruling Socialists in a strong position to win a second term of office.

Health protests continue in Slovakia

Tensions remain high between protesting Slovak health workers and the country's government. At a public meeting in Bratislava, health workers threatened to step up their week-long protest strike, if the government failed to start negotiations. The government has said that its market-oriented reforms will not be up for discussion prior to parliamentary elections in June.

Czech doctors also plan protests

Doctors are also threatening protests against health care reforms in the Czech Republic. Many doctors, dentists and medical staff say that reforms introduced by Health Minister David Rath undermine the quality of medical care. They have accused him of failing to consult planned changes with specialists in the field. A week of protests is being planned for mid-May although it is not yet clear what form they will take.

Austria plans minimum cigarette prices from mid-May

Austria's health minister Maria Rauch-Kallat has defied a threat of legal action by the EU Commission, by announcing that the government will impose minimum prices on cigarettes from May 15th. The cheapest brand on the Austrian market will cost 3.25 euro a packet. The EU's executive arm warned Austria and five other member states that they could not set minimum prices.