A Slovak military plane crashed into a mountain in eastern Hungary on Thursday night, killing 42 people, mostly peacekeepers returning from the NATO mission in Kosovo. Slovak media reported that one person survived and was taken to a Slovak hospital in a critical condition. The plane was a Soviet-built Antonov, and crashed in mountains only 20 kilometres from the base in the Slovak city of Kosice where it was due to land. Around 100 Slovak soldiers are based in Kosovo as part of a 17,000 strong force.
The Austrian Chancellor, Wolfgang Schuessel has faced the first major challenge of his country's six-month presidency of the European Union. The European Parliament rejected the austere draft budget for 2007-2013, agreed by the 25 in December. Despite the setback Euro-MPs and diplomats are widely expected to reach a compromise in further Austrian-brokered talks. Chancellor Schuessel has proposed a package of new taxes to reduce the EU's reliance on contributions from national budgets, but he said any increase in the overall budget spending limit agreed in December could be more or less ruled out.
Hungary's President Lazslo Solyom has set a date for parliamentary elections in April. The latest opinion polls put the ruling Socialists just ahead of the opposition right-of-centre Fidesz, but they also suggest that up to 40 percent of the electorate remains undecided. The economy is set to be a central issue in the election campaign. Relative to the size of its economy Hungary currently has the highest budget deficit in the European Union.
The Polish President Lech Kaczynski and his twin brother Jaroslaw, who heads the country's ruling party, have both urged the opposition to find a way of ending the current political crisis. Poland has been in deadlock ever since the conservative Law and Justice party won elections three months ago, but came short of a majority. Opposition parties say that the conservatives do not mean the appeal seriously and claim that the government is pushing for early elections. Recent polls suggest that the Law and Justice party would have a chance of winning an absolute majority in a snap election.
Tonnes of fish in the River Elbe in the Czech Republic have died after a cyanide leak from a chemicals plant. An inspector described the accident as one of the worst of its kind in the country in recent years. An 80 kilometre stretch of the river was contaminated, and there was also concern in Germany, where the Elbe flows after leaving the Czech Republic. An investigation is under way, and the environment inspectorate believes that the spillage occurred at a pharmaceuticals plant in the town of Kolin. Cyanide levels in the river are now decreasing.
Police in Eastern Slovakia have found 45 would-be illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and India hidden in a furniture removals truck. A spokesman said that the group included three children and had probably come from neighbouring Ukraine. Police said the immigrants were being transported in "inhuman conditions" and were "numb with cold". In November Slovak police broke up a network of people-traffickers suspected of smuggling some 270 Bangladeshi, Chinese, Indian and Pakistani nationals into Austria and the Czech Republic.