Insight Central Europe News

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Concern in Central Europe over political freedom in Belarus

Countries across Central Europe have expressed concern over political freedom in Belarus, as Alexander Lukashenko seeks a third term of office in presidential elections. The EU external relations commissioner and former Austrian Foreign Minister, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, called for the immediate release of arrested opposition figures and condemned the refusal to allow EU observers to watch the poll. The Czech Foreign Minister, Cyril Svoboda also expressed concern over pressure being placed on opposition groups. In Poland rallies in support of the Belarusian opposition have been held throughout the country. The former Polish and Czech Presidents, Lech Walesa and Vaclav Havel, have called on the European Union to stand by the country's liberal opposition.

The Czech Republic approves registered partnership for gay couples

The Czech Republic is to introduce registered partnerships for gay and lesbian couples. On Wednesday the lower house of parliament overturned a previous veto by President Vaclav Klaus. The bill was passed by a margin of just one vote. The Czech Republic becomes the first former Eastern Bloc state to fully legalise registered partnerships for homosexuals.

Slovak economy grows fast

Slovakia's economy grew by 6% in 2005. The Statistics Office, which released the figures, said it expected growth to accelerate still further in the first half of this year. Inflation stood at 2.7% - the lowest level in Slovakia's history, and unemployment also fell last year. Last week Slovakia's neighbour and former federal partner, the Czech Republic, also published statistics showing a 6% growth rate for 2005.

Austrian army considers hiring Muslim clerics

The Austrian Army is considering hiring Muslim clerics to provide counselling for soldiers who follow Islam. A Defence Ministry official says over 3% of recruits are now Muslims and the army wants to provide equal treatment. Protestant ministers and Catholic priests are currently employed in the Austrian army.

Slovenia puts pressure on Croatia

The row between Slovenia and Croatia has heated up again. The Slovenian Foreign Ministry has called for a resolution to a dispute over foreign currency deposits made by Croatians into the Slovenian bank Ljubljanska banka before the split of Yugoslavia. Otherwise, it says, Slovenia will not support Croatia's accession to the EU. The two countries are also involved in a long-running dispute over their maritime border.

Socialists catch up with conservative opposition in Hungarian poll

Hungary's conservative opposition Fidesz party has said it will re-launch its election campaign after an opinion poll showed it had lost its lead over the ruling Socialists. Fidesz said the new campaign would be more positive, and would centre on its leader Viktor Orban and his party's programme. Pollsters say the campaign for April's parliamentary elections has become a contest of personalities which so far is going in favour of Orban's main rival, the youthful Socialist Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany.