Insight Central Europe News

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Putin builds bridges with Czech Republic and Hungary

Russian President Vladimir Putin has been in Hungary and the Czech Republic. His visit aimed to rebuild bridges with former Soviet satellites. He said that Russia was keen to boost investments in the region. Mr Putin acknowledged that Russia bore moral responsibility for the Soviet suppression of Hungary's 1956 uprising and the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, but he stopped short of a full apology. To coincide with the visit, a group of political, religious and business leaders, led by former Czech President Vaclav Havel, sent a letter to the Russian president, criticizing the country's policies on Chechnya.

Pilot error most likely cause of Slovak plane crash

A Slovak army spokesman has said that January's military plane crash that killed 42 people was probably caused by pilot error. A 36-year-old Soviet-built plane was bringing Slovak peacekeepers home from Kosovo, when it crashed into a mountain in Hungary after starting its descent to an eastern Slovak airport too early. The Defence Ministry has said that it will take several months before the investigation can be closed and the final results released.

Further cases of H5N1 confirmed in Central Europe

Further cases of bird flu have been confirmed in Central Europe. Poland detected its first case after two swans were found dead on the bank of the River Vistula in the northern city of Torun on Sunday. Quoting sources from a veterinary institute, which carried out special tests on the birds, Polish public television reported the dead birds were infected with the H5N1 virus that is deadly to humans. Samples have been sent to Britain for further tests.

Meanwhile, the number of wild birds with the H5N1 virus found in Slovenia has risen to 20. All were in the region of Maribor in the north-east of the country. New cases have also been found in Hungary, near Budapest, although they have not yet been confirmed as H5N1, but the virus has been confirmed in chickens and ducks at an animal sanctuary in the Austrian city of Graz. In Slovakia two cases have also been confirmed. While there have still been no confirmed cases in the Czech Republic, Agriculture Minister Jan Mladek said on Sunday that bird flu has probably already reached the country.

Slovak Prime Minister undergoes operation after skiing accident

Slovak Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda had to undergo an operation after suffering a complicated leg fracture while skiing on Saturday. It is not yet clear whether Mr Dzurinda will be able to make his planned trip to Washington to meet US President George Bush next weekend. The injury came as Slovakia began preparations for June 17 parliamentary elections, in which Mr Dzurinda will try to stay in office for a third consecutive term. Slovakia's centre-right coalition fell apart in February after a row over religious issues, forcing Mr Dzurinda to move the elections three months forward.

Polish Catholic Church for restricted Sunday working

The Catholic Church in Poland has spoken out strongly against Sunday working for staff at shops, service centres and large markets. A church spokesman said that currently some people were being forced to work on Sundays against their conscience. He called for new legislation to restrict Sunday working. But the Business Centre Club, an organization of Polish entrepreneurs, has appealed for greater flexibility. It says that unemployment has recently risen again to over 18% and that tougher restrictions could lead to further job losses.

Austrian Chamber of Labour says women worse off in last decade

A new study in Austria suggests that the social and economic situation of women in the country has worsened in the last decade. The head of the Chamber of Labour, which conducted the study, said that women were particularly affected by rising unemployment. The report also reveals a substantial difference in wages between men and women, and a lack of childcare places.