- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 9, 2005

CZECH REPUBLIC

EU expansion predicted at parley

PRAGUE — The European Union could number 35 members within the next decade but urgently needs to reform to be able to function, an international conference on EU expansion heard last week.

Speaking at the European Expansion — Experiences and Potential conference here Thursday, Amanda Akcakoca, a policy adviser with the Brussels-based European Policy Center, suggested that even Russia may warm up to the idea of joining the bloc.

“Russia still sees itself as a big player in its own right, but the closer the democratic process gets to Russia’s borders, the closer Russia may come to the EU. The day may come when Russia has a change of heart and considers joining the EU,” she said.

NETHERLANDS

18 suspects held for child smuggling

THE HAGUE — Dutch authorities at Schiphol airport arrested a gang that smuggled dozens of Chinese children into the Netherlands and sent them on to other European countries including Italy and France, Dutch media report.

The children have all disappeared and are thought to have been sold as cheap labor to restaurants, sweat shops and sex clubs, the Telegraaf newspaper said. “These children were sold. For [$13,000 to $19,000] brothels, restaurants or sweat shops could buy a child,” a researcher working on the investigation, told the Telegraaf.

Dutch authorities have arrested 18 suspects aged 15 to 55 in connection with the case, mostly Dutch nationals of Chinese origin.

EUROPEAN UNION

Italy fifth member to ratify new charter

BRUSSELS — At last, a piece of good news for supporters of the European Union’s first constitution as they fret over recent polls suggesting a “no” vote in the French referendum on the blueprint next month.

Italy became the fifth EU state to ratify the constitution last Wednesday after its Senate voted 217 to 16 to back the text. The victory for the “yes” camp was hardly a surprise — the lower house of Parliament adopted the document in January, and opinion polls show Italians to be the among the biggest fans of the new treaty.

Italy is the first founding member of the European Union to throw its weight behind the constitution — the parliaments of new EU states Latvia, Lithuania and Hungary already have adopted the charter, while Spaniards comfortably voted in favor of the text in a referendum last month.

Europe’s nervous political elite were quick to welcome the vote. “With Spain and Italy, two important neighbors of France have given a big boost to the ‘yes’ camp,’” said German Christian Democrat Hans-Gert Poettering, leader of the EU assembly’s largest bloc.

Weekly notes …

A historic call last week from Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams for the Irish Republican Army to end its armed struggle was seen by party members as the beginning of the end for one of Europe’s most-feared paramilitary groups. “It is an initiative which means the end of the IRA,” said a leading member of Sinn Fein who declined to the named. … The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, found Lithuania guilty last week of “degrading treatment” of a former prisoner who spent most of his three years in jail in a space of less than 22 square feet. Vytautas Karalevicius, now 53, convicted of forgery, filed a complaint with the court about his treatment at the prison in Siauliai, Lithuania. The judges also condemned Lithuanian authorities for opening mail he exchanged with the court, which is contrary to the European convention on human rights.

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