Slovakia

Palestinians reject Warsaw Conference

The secretary general of the Palestinian Liberation Organization executive committee, Saeb Erekat, issued a statement rejecting the US-led conference that opens today in Warsaw, ostensibly aimed at brokering Middle East peace. Said Erekat: "Today we face a reality whereby the US Trump administration, in cooperation with the Polish government, is pushing yet a new initiative to annihilate the Palestinian national project." (Ma'an) The meeting was first announced last month by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo after his anti-Iran speech in Cairo, and is widely perceived as an effort to rally world powers behind Washington's drive against Tehran. Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner is to be among the speakers. Poland has been making some efforts to resist turning the conference into a propagandistic anti-Iran meeting, underscoring its commitment to the nuclear deal that the US has now disavowed. But as Warsaw's former ambassador to Afghanistan Piotr Lukasiewicz told Al Jazeera: "[Poland] has lost control over the general message of the conference to the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia." The notable absentees from the summit are meanwhile convening their own meeting in the Russian ski resort of Sochi. The rival summit is bringing together Vladimir Putin, Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iran's Hassan Rouhani, officiallty to discuss the situation in Syria and the pending withdrawal of US troops there. (EuroNews)

Car industry behind Hungary's 'slave law'

In the biggest demonstrations since the fall of communism, thousands have repeatedly taken to the streets in Hungary to oppose Prime Minister Viktor Orban''s controversial "slave law." The square outside the parliament building in Budapest was massively occupied Dec. 12 as the law was approved. It was subsequently signed by President Janos Ader. Orban said the law scraps "silly rules," and will help those who want to earn more by working more. He dismissed the opposition to the law as "hysterical shouting" by people "whose lies have no limits." In fact, the law will allow employers to demand workers put in up to 400 extra hours per year of overtime, compared with the current limit of 250. Meanwhile, payment for this overtime may be delayed by up to three years. Local media in Hungary report that Orban pushed through the law in a bid to lure German auto-maker BMW to invest a billion euros in a new plant in Debrecen, Hungary's second city, situated in the poorest region of the country, the northeast. The move is portrayed as intended to undercut labor costs in Slovakia, where BMW was initially considering investment.

DoD announces transfer of Gitmo detainees

The US Department of Defense (DoD) announced Nov. 20 the transfer of five detainees from the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay. Three are being transferred to the country of Georgia, while Slovakia has accepted the transfer of two more detainees. In 2009 the Guantanamo Review Task Force, composed of six agencies, approved the transfers after considering factors such as security issues. Congress imposed restrictions on dozens of approved releases, including prohibiting any detainees from being sent to the US, but many restrictions were relaxed last December. A total of 143 prisoners remain at Guantanamo, and 74 of these have also been cleared for a future transfer.

Transcarpathia: next Ukrainian flashpoint?

Reuters reported May 5 that Russian pipeline monopoly Transneft stopped diesel shipments to Ukraine and Hungary last month "due to uncertainties over the pipe's ownership," with the Ukrainian prosecutor's office filing a claim of ownership over the Soviet-era duct. We are actually asked to believe that the stoppage is "unrelated to the Ukraine crisis." Meawnhile, Voice of Russia reports that Hungary is stepping in as the protector of minorities in the Zakarpatie region of western Ukraine (also rendered Transcarpathia). These are principally the ethnic Hungarians and the Rusyns (also rendered Ruthenians). The regional parliament, the Hungarian-Rusyn National Congress, is now seeking autonomous legislative powers under a proposed "Transcarpathian Regional Confederation of the Hungarian and Rusyn People." While ethnic Hungarians are considered a "national minority" in Ukraine, the Rusyns do not have such status, according to Denis Kiryukhin of the Kiev Center for Political Studies and Conflictology. "Problems with the Rusyns have come up for several years already," Kiryukhin said. "That is the only ethnic minority in Ukraine, which Kiev has always refused to acknowledge. The relations between Rusyns and Ukrainians have been complicated and remain such to date." Despite the fact that Ukraine does not recognize dual citizenship, Budapest has started issuing passports to residents of Zakarpatie—an open affront to Kiev.

Last Uighur prisoners released from Guantánamo

The US Department of Defense announced Jan. 1 that three Uighur Muslim detainees were transferred to Slovakia from the Guantánamo Bay military prison. The detainees, Yusef Abbas, Saidullah Khalik and Hajiakbar Abdul Ghuper, were the last three members of the Chinese ethnic minority being held at the facility since their 2001 capture in Pakistan. US District Court Judge Ricardo Urbina declared in 2008 that the detention of the Uighurs was unlawful, though the US has delayed their release to find a country that would accept them. Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby called the transfer "a significant milestone in our effort to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay."

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