Findings by Polish investigators at odds with Russian report on Smolensk crash
The Moscow-based committee’s report stated that Poland’s air force commander General Andrzej Blasik could be heard in the cockpit of the presidential Tupolev Tu-154 and pressured pilots to make the fatal landing in poor visibility. The Russian investigators also said the general had a blood-alcohol level of 0.06%.
The Polish experts’ study showed that Blasik’s voice could not be identified in cockpit recordings immediately before the crash. Ireneusz Szelag, spokesman of Poland’s Military District Prosecutor’s Office, said that close examination of the black box recordings was unable to yield any evidence that Blasik was in the cockpit. He said that a number of voices had been found on the recording, but not all had been identified.
A week earlier, conspiracy theories around the Smolensk disaster had again been emphasised when military prosecutor Mikolaj Przybyl attempted suicide, shooting himself in the head during a break in a press conference in which he had been defending Krzysztof Parulski against attacks by right-wing media. The story turned on “information confidentially passed by the Russian Federation prosecutors to Polish prosecutors” on the investigation in Russia of the Smolensk plane crash of April 2010. Leaks of this to the media had fatally compromised Polish-Russian co-operation and led to delays in the investigation.
In his statement before shooting himself Mikolaj Przybyl alluded to the activities of American special services in Poland and right-wing attempts to disrupt Polish-Russian relations. The situation had been further muddied when the leader of the PiS party (Law and Justice) Jaroslaw Kaczyński used conspiracy theories around his brother’s death as the core of his failed electoral campaign to succeed his brother in the presidency.
Poland’s first nuclear plant to be built on the Baltic
PGE was selected by the Polish government as the investor for the first Polish nuclear plants. Government plans assume PGE will build two plants with total generation capacity of 6,000 MW. PGE may seek partners for its nuclear power plant project or do the whole project on its own, but either way plans to retain at least 51% share, Zadroga said.
Prime Minister resigns in face of austerity protests
President Traian Băsescu shortly afterwards nominated the country’s former foreign minister and current intelligence service chief Mihai Răzvan Ungureanu as prime minister designate. “The ruling coalition agreed to appoint Ungureanu as prime minister designate,” Băsescu said in a statement. The nomination must then go to parliament for approval.
As prime minister Emil Boc had imposed a 25% cut in public sector wages and a freeze on pensions. Sales tax was also increased to 24%. România‘s economy actually grew last year, but it was in Europe’s second poorest country. Both the European Commission and the IMF expect România to have a higher economic growth than the €urozone this year.
The government said it needed to implement the austerity measures in order to qualify for the next instalment of a €20 billion bailout loan from the International Monetary Fund. Emil Boc said that in a time of crisis, his centrist government was not in a popularity contest but had acted to save the country. Protests broke out in January, initially against the resignation of popular junior health minister Raed Arafat, but soon became an expression of discontent against austerity and corruption.
Prime Minister designate Mihai Răzvan Ungureanu has a master’s degree from Oxford University and was Foreign Minister between 2004 and 2007 during Traian Băsescu’s first term of office. “Reforms will continue,” he said after being nominated. “The added value that I will bring resides in my experience as a manager.”
The next elections in România are scheduled to take place in November 2012.
2011 census shows population down 2.6 million
The last time România reported a population of about 19 million people was in 1966. The last census, which took place in 2002, reported a population of 21.68 million people in Romania.
According to the census, of the whole stable population of România, 10,058 thousand people had residence in towns and cities (52.8%), while 8,989 thousands lived in the countryside. 22 counties reported less than 400,000 inhabitants and only two counties had more than 700,000 inhabitants.
Bucharest has a reported population of 1.678 million people.
88.6% of the registered population declared themselves ethnic Românians, 6.5% Hungarian, and 619,000 (3.2%) declared themselves ethnic Roma.
The census did not include people who had gone abroad for a period of at least 12 months, nor people who were staying in România temporarily.
Twenty-two die in freezing weather
In the previous 24 hours eight deaths were registered, in Arges, Buzau, Satu Mare, Hunedoara, Prahova and Dolj counties.
Meteorologists launched a new yellow code warning for blizzards and heavy snow, while temperatures were expected to drop to minus 27°C. Winds were forecast to increase to 90 kilometres per hour and blizzards were expected everywhere in the country.
Gypsy king challenges social benefits cuts
Cioaba asked for the law to be modified, so that it helps the poor population in Romania. “We don’t deny the fact that many citizens get social benefits, although they have a good financial situation and they shouldn’t get social benefits. But there are also many poor people who barely make ends meet. Among these, many are part of Roma communities. The conditions for granting social benefits are simply draconian. It is inadmissible that a poor person doesn’t receive social benefits if one has a nine-year old car or over 25 chickens, which help him survive.
He added that it was inadmissible that a family should no longer receive social benefits if it has inherited over 100 grams of gold. “The value of 100 grams of gold can help a family survive no more than a month.”
“This project is draconian and it is meant to make the poor get poorer. I consider that the most affected are the Roma communities, which, in general have many children and no income.”
The Labour Ministry recently announced measures meant to cut fraudulent claims for social assistance benefits. Anybody who has jewels, precious metals of over 100 grams, art objects, porcelain and crystal objects or furs, would no longer receive social assistance benefits. A further requirement is that one has to have paid taxes in order to be on the list of social assistance beneficiaries.
Recent data showed that nearly eight million persons received social assistance benefits from the Labour Ministry or local council benefits. In comparison, there were 5.2 million active employees in Romania, out of a population of 19 million.
Former prime minister sentenced for corruption
Adrian Nastase said on 30 January that he would appeal the verdict and that he was sure “things will be corrected on appeal”. He called the verdict a “political decision, a dirty decision” and referred to “rumours” that principal judge Ionut Matei “had meetings with representatives of the National Anti-corruption Department”, the body which launched the corruption investigation against him.
Ceauşescu luxuries being put up for auction
The auction included a leopard skin, silver doves and a bronze yak. The skin fetched €3,750 and the yak, given by Chinese communist leader Mao Tse-tung, €12,000. Two silver enamelled doves were a gift from the late Shah of Iran. Communist-era posters, medals, photos and flags, some dating back up to 70 years, also went under the hammer. It was the first public auction of Ceauşescu possessions in a decade.
Ceauşescu and his wife surrounded themselves with luxuries while most Romanians struggled with poverty, power cuts and suffered constant surveillance by secret police.
German diplomat suggests EU candidacy in jeopardy
EU foreign ministers are scheduled meet on the last day of February to debate whether Serbia has met the conditions that were put before the country by the European Council late in 2011.
The first of the conditions is the resumption of the dialogue between Belgrade and Priština and reaching an agreement on regional representation of Kosovo.
However, the dialogue has been suspended for more than two months now as the two sides have been unable to reach an agreement on having “UN Security Resolution 1244” written under the name of Kosovo.
The source recalled a recent meeting between German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle and his Serbian counterpart Vuk Jeremić, when Westerwelle had cautioned the Serbian minister about the deadline being close to expiry.
Other diplomatic sources also say that Serbia is unlikely to get the status if an agreement on representation is not reached. The sources hinted that if Serbia did not get candidate status by the end of February or early in March, the possibility would probably not be debated prior to the EU Summit in December.
the government’s chief negotiator in the ongoing Kosovo talks Borislav Stefanović claimed that the Kosovan side was holding up the negotiations. He said that Belgrade continued to maintain a constructive approach, insisting on the continuation of the dialogue and providing new solutions. “We do not want to wait for the last moment (to reach an agreement) and it is important that the entire international community sees that Serbia is very constructive and has put forth new solutions and propositions,” Stefanovic said and added that “Serbia is not the side that is currently stalling the talks or finding a solution – it is Priština that is doing that”.
Critical situation as ice paralyses large rivers
On 7 February the situation with rivers in Serbia was described as “critical”. Emergency Situations chief Predrag Marić said an ice surface about half a metre thick had formed on the Ibar River, and ice formed on the Danube was 100 kilometres long.
Three icebreakers were going to be deployed to the Iron Gates gorge on the Danube. The authorities were also considering safely breaking up the ice by using explosives.
Late on Sunday 6 February the government declared a state of emergency over the entire territory of Serbia, and said that first effects of the decision are expected to be seen in the next three or four days.
The next day machinery was sent to some endangered areas, Maric said, and added that while snow was expected to stop that afternoon, the next serious risk was ice.
IMF and Serbian government launch talks
Zuzana Murgasova is leading the IMF Mission to Serbia for the first time, and the meeting at the National Bank was attended by Bank Governor Dejan Šoškić and his associates.
Prime Minister Mirko Cvetković also spoke with the IMF delegation. The Serbian budget and the macroeconomic framework for 2012, as well as the structural reforms recently implemented by Serbia. The government will strictly abide by the budget and those very clear explanations which say that the amount of issued guarantees and the amount of issued state bonds will not go outside the limits which could jeopardize the functioning of the state in the period until the budget balancing,” then PM’s spokesman explained.
The IMF Mission, which has been in Belgrade since 2 February, aims to come to an agreement with Serbian government representatives by within a week on the end of the first review of the current stand-by arrangement.
Parliament rejects changes to ease Citizenship Act
The aim of the amendment was to ensure that those who have acquired certain kinds of residency in another country do not lose their Slovak citizenship. In addition, the legislation was designed to return Slovak citizenship to people who have lost it due to the current form of the Citizenship Act passed by the previous government in 2010. According to the current legislation, people who apply for citizenship of another country automatically lose their Slovak one. The legislation was approved by the previous government in reaction to Hungary’s dual-citizenship law, whereby people with Hungarian ancestors can acquire Hungarian citizenship even if they have never lived in the country.
Beautiful bookshop wins design prize
The unusual structure is built around a staircase. It was designed by Plural and Total Studio. The interior is comprised of a series of stepped platforms which double as seating, between two continuous parallel bookshelf walls. The auditorium arrangement is suitable for projections, readings, small scale concerts and workshops. Customers can sit, read and relax next to the shelves.
District court says its book ban is not censorship
The Bratislava district court had issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting publication of Nicholson’s book on 3 January and the spokesman for the Regional Court in Bratislava said that the district court’s ruling can be appealed within a defined deadline. The preliminary injunction was valid until the courts make a final decision on the lawsuit filed by Penta co-owner Jaroslav Haščák. The court issued the injunction even though the book has not been finished.
Judge Branislav Král, who issued the ruling, found that his car had been damaged over the weekend in front of his house in a village close to Bratislava.
Private rail service between Komárno and Bratislava to commence this month
Private company RegioJet plans to start selling train tickets for the Bratislava-Komárno route from 20 February. The initial trips will be part of a test schedule, so various reductions were being offered.
RegioJet, which also operates transport services under the Student Agency brand, promised that railway tickets to southern Slovakia will be cheaper, especially for passengers travelling more than 60 kilometres. The company also promised to increase the number of trains travelling between Bratislava and Komárno, on the southern border with Hungary.
Operation of the trains will be partly financed by the state, which will pay a proportionate amount to RegioJet for every kilometre travelled. The Transport Ministry wants to use the same approach to selected carriers on other routes.
Passenger numbers fall at Bratislava Airport in 2011 but revenues increase
The trend in 2011 followed the trend in previous years ever since the SkyEurope airline went bankrupt in 2009, Madunická said, adding that despite unrest in certain Arab countries in early 2011, which resulted in the cancellation of dozens of flights, the airport saw an increase in interest in charter flights.
“In a year-on-year comparison, all the summer-season months posted growth of over 10 percent,” Madunická stated, with July and August being the busiest months.
Public opinion shifts in favour of Janša
Janša is seen as the best PM-designate by 38.2% of respondents, up from 31.4% in the previous poll. Janković, on the other hand, slipped from 51% to 34.7%.
The poll was carried out on 24 and 25 January, several days before Janša was actually appointed PM-elect in parliament.
The Pozitivna Slovenija party (Positive Slovenija) led by Ljubljana mayor Zoran Janković won a surprise victory in parliamentary elections on 4 December, gaining 29.5% of the vote against 25.9% for former PM Janez Janša. The party of the current Prime Minister Borut Pahor came third with only 10.3% of the votes. The election had been triggered when his government lost a confidence vote in September over pension reforms.
Janša’ however was able to gather support from a five-party centre-right coalition. In the latest poll this appears to have support from 46.4% of respondents whereas 47% disapproved. However his austerity plans to shave €800m off public spending this year does have more support – 56.3% of poll respondents. Similarly more than two-thirds support his plans to put a debt ceiling into the Constitution.
Parliament endorses Janša as PM
Janša was sworn in immediately, and now has two weeks to put forward candidates for cabinet posts, which must be confirmed in a separate vote. If his cabinet is confirmed, Janša will become the prime minister of the tenth Slovenian government since independence.
Janša’s five-party centre-right coalition includes alongside the SDS the Virant List, the People’s Party (SLS), Pensioners’ Party (DeSUS) and New Slovenia (NSi), which together have 50 MPs in the 90-seat National Assembly.
He told the National Assembly that his coalition would work on three priorities: stabilising Slovenija’s public finances, restarting the economy and enabling job growth. He hoped the cabinet would be completed by 10 February.
Janša has already been congratulated by President Danilo Türk, by outgoing Prime Minister Borut Pahor and by the leader of the opposition party Pozitivna Slovenija Zoran Janković. In a short address, Pahor called for co-operation: “We need each other, we should respect each other and encourage each other. It is unbelievable what good we can achieve – as individuals and as a group.”
Black Sea ports closed after sea freezes
By 7 February the ice off the port of Yevpatoria had covered about two square kilometres of coast, while in Odessa small icebergs are seen in 100 metres away from the shore.
Meteorological records show that the last time the Black Sea froze was in 1977. Reports at the end of the first week of February said that 135 people in Ukraine had been killed by the frost; all ports of the country have been closed until 15 February.
Situation has been similar in the Black Sea ports of Bulgaria and Romania. At one of Romania’s largest ports Constanta the surface of the sea has frozen up to 100 metres distance from the shore and the ice has been 40 cm thick.
Yulia Tymoshenko loses appeal against jail term
Tymoshenko and her lawyers boycotted the appeal proceedings on 23 December, condemning them as a travesty of justice. “Seeking truth and justice in the Ukrainian courts is completely futile,” she said in a statement from prison.
Yulia Tymoshenko’s trial and imprisonment have been criticised by Russia, the European Union and the United States.
Tymoshenko seen by EU Commissioner Stefan Fuele
As her supporters gathered outside the court when the hearing opened on 13 December, clashes were reported with riot police who tried to stop them entering the building.
Yulia Tymoshenko, now 51, has complained of severe back pain. Warnings about her condition by Ukraine’s human rights envoy last month led to medical tests in a Kiev hospital. Her lawyer, Serhiy Vlasenko, said he had met the former PM in the prison’s medical wing and urged the appeal court to announce “a break in the case”.
TV reports on 13 December said Stefan Fuele, the EU Enlargement Commissioner, had spent half an hour at Lukyanivska prison.
The European Union has condemned her trial as politically motivated and Fuele said he had assured the former prime minister that the 27-member group would continue to follow her appeal closely and “would insist upon the need for her to benefit from all her rights to defend herself in a fair process”.
The EU and Ukraine are due to hold a joint summit next week on finalising a deal on political association and the creation of a free trade zone. But the meeting has been overshadowed by Tymoshenko’s 7-year jail-term.
Stefan Fuele also had talks with Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych, which he said were aimed at preparing the ground for the summit.