News round-up

17 - 24 March 1997

Large protests on Hungary's national day

Tens of thousands of demonstrators shouted anti-Government slogans in Budapest on Hungary's national day, with speakers calling for a right-wing coalition ahead of next year's elections.

Right-wing politician Istvan Csurka told crowds gathered at Budapest's Heroes' square that the Socialist Free Democrat (SFD) coalition, which came to power in 1994, is already finished. The SFD has a 72 per cent majority in Parliament, but recent opinion polls show that the parties of the right are catching up, with the Smallholders' Party currently leading.

Mr Csurka's party, which mainly appeals to residual anti-communist feelings, failed to reach the five per cent of votes required for Parliament during the last elections. Socialist Prime Minister Gyula Horn, a former communist, was a conscript in a militia which helped Soviet troops crush Hungary's 1956 anti-Soviet uprising.

Mr Csurka also spoke against international financial institutions which he said are responsible for worsening living standards.

Polish shipyard workers close Gdansk

Workers from Poland's failing Gdansk shipyard halted transport in the Baltic port city, foreshadowing the possibility of country-wide protests planned by the Solidarity union. The workers are threatened with unemployment after the yard's receiver announced he would dismiss the last 3,800 employees and sell off its assets piecemeal if necessary.

Slovakia's President calls referendum on constitutional change

In an attempt to out-manoeuvre Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar, Slovak President Michal Kovac has named 23/24 May as the days for a referendum on a constitutional change that would allow for direct presidential elections. Mr Meciar is heavily opposed to the idea; Mr Kovac also said a referendum on whether Slovakia should join NATO will be held at the same time.

Austria confirms continued support for Hugary EU entry

Austrian Chancellor Viktor Klima reasserted his support for Hungary's efforts to join the European Union (EU), but added that EU enlargement could not take place without adequate internal reform of the EU structure. The Austrian Government, under pressure from farmers who say Hungary's membership would unleash an influx of cheap labour and goods undercutting Austrian agriculture, had previously seemed to have become unenthusiastic about Hungary's cause within the EU.

Czech SocDems re-elect Milos Zeman as leader

The Social Democrats, the leading Czech opposition party, has re-elected Milos Zeman as their leader. Mr Zeman, who has already held the post for four years, led the CSSD to a surprisingly good showing in the general elections last spring, when the party took second place and denied the centre-right Government a Parliamentary majority.

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