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Briefly

- - Sunday, April 17, 2011

ITALY

France blocks train from Italy in migrant spat

ROME | A train carrying Tunisian immigrants from Italy was halted at the French border Sunday in an escalation of an international dispute over the fate of North African migrants fleeing political unrest for refuge in Europe.

A spokesman for the Italian rail company, Maurizio Furia, told the Associated Press in Rome that the train carrying migrants and political activists who support them wasn't being allowed to pass into Menton, France, from the Italian border station of Ventimiglia.

Italy has been giving temporary residence permits to many of the roughly 26,000 Tunisians who have gone to Italy to escape unrest in North Africa in recent weeks. Many of the Tunisians have family ties or friends in France, and the Italian government says the permits should allow the Tunisians to go there under travel accords allowing visa-free travel among many European countries.

France says it will honor the permits only if the migrants prove they can financially support themselves, and it has instituted patrols on the Italian border — unprecedented since the introduction of the Schengen travel-free zone.

Germany has said it would do the same.

FINLAND

Populist party threatens EU bailout of Portugal

HELSINKI | Finland's anti-euro True Finns party was expected to make big gains in Sunday's parliamentary election, threatening the pro-European government and raising the risk of disruption to an EU bailout of Portugal.

Finland's parliament, unlike others in the eurozone, has the right to vote on EU requests for bailout funds, meaning it could hold up plans to shore up Portugal and bring stability to debt markets.

An opinion poll on Thursday showed the National Coalition — the second-largest party in Finland's governing coalition and an EU supporter — with a narrow lead, at 21 percent of voters.

That would not be enough to secure the majority in parliament, and analysts expect it to seek a multiparty coalition. Some say it could even invite in the True Finns, if the party secures enough votes.

UKRAINE

Thousands protest Chernobyl benefit cuts

KIEV | About 2,000 veterans of the Chernobyl cleanup operation rallied Sunday in Ukraine's capital to protest cuts in the benefits and pensions they receive to compensate them for their exposure to radiation.

Days before the 25th anniversary of the explosion at the nuclear power plant that sent clouds of radiation over much of Europe, protesters in Kiev expressed their anger at the government over drastically reduced pensions and the rising cost of health care, with more cutbacks to come.

Leonid Lytvynenko, 48, said his monthly pension has been cut from $212 to $150 since January, and he spends more than half of it buying medicine that until this year was free. He gave no details about his illness, saying only that it stemmed from his work in Chernobyl in 1986.

"I was 23 then and performed my national duty," said Mr. Lytvynenko, a small, thin man whose face is deeply wrinkled. "Now I am disabled and my country has thrown me overboard."

He was among about 600,000 so-called "liquidators" who were sent from all over the Soviet Union to the Chernobyl plant after the April 26, 1986, explosion and fire.

In 1991, Soviet authorities offered a generous package of benefits to Chernobyl cleanup workers. But over time, the benefits have been cut back, and requirements to prove a connection between Chernobyl service and illness have become tougher.

The current government under President Viktor Yanukovych said it has been forced to make further cuts this year because of the lingering effects of the global financial crisis, which hit Ukraine hard. Mr. Yanukovych said recently that fulfilling the past promises to Chernobyl workers is "beyond the government's strength."

From wire dispatches and staff reports