- The Washington Times - Monday, April 26, 2010

AUSTRIA

President easily wins re-election bid

VIENNA | Austria’s president easily won a second term Sunday, deflecting a challenge by a far-right politician who had denounced the country’s anti-Nazi law, projections based on partial returns showed.

Incumbent Heinz Fischer, a Social Democrat, had won 78.9 percent of the vote with 82.6 percent of ballots counted, according to the projections broadcast on public television ORF.

Barbara Rosenkranz of the anti-foreigner and anti-European Union Freedom Party drew 15.6 percent. Rudolf Gehring of the tiny Austrian Christian Party trailed with 5.5 percent.

Turnout was a mere 48.9 percent.

BOSNIA

Balkan countries pledge to improve image

SARAJEVO | Bosnia and Serbia have agreed to make a fresh start in their relationship, soured over the past few years, and reassure investors concerned about regional stability, the Bosnian presidency chairman said Sunday.

“We have to change the image of the Western Balkan region,” Haris Silajdzic said on his return from an Istanbul summit Saturday between the presidents of the two former Yugoslav republics and their host, Turkish President Abdullah Gul.

Relations between Bosnia and Serbia have worsened since 2006, mainly because of Serbia’s arrest and trial of a Bosnian official for war crimes committed during the 1992-95 war, and similar arrest warrants.

As part of its policy to heal relations between countries in the region, Turkey has intensified efforts to improve ties between the two Balkan neighbors.

Bosnia and Serbia signed a declaration pledging to settle the dispute over unresolved borders, property and debt, and discuss a joint approach toward international markets at a planned meeting in Belgrade.

GERMANY

Coalition split on taxes before key vote

BERLIN | Germany’s ruling coalition partners faced off over tax cut plans during the weekend, revealing stark divisions two weeks before they face a regional vote that could end their majority in the upper house of parliament.

The dispute over the sum and time frame of tax cuts highlighted different positions held by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), their Bavarian CSU allies, and junior coalition partners the Free Democrats (FDP).

Foreign Minister and FDP leader Guido Westerwelle pushed Sunday for plans that have faced opposition from, among others, Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, who insists budget consolidation has priority over tax cuts.

The FDP’s latest proposal, agreed at the party meeting where Mr. Westerwelle spoke, is for more than $21 billion in cuts from 2012 at the latest — a retreat from earlier vows to cut taxes by some $27 billion in 2011.

ITALY

Right-wing leader defiant on Berlusconi

ROME | Italian right-wing leader Gianfranco Fini showed no regrets on Sunday after clashing with ally and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, and said he would respect only party decisions that have been properly discussed.

Mr. Fini and Mr. Berlusconi, joint founders of the ruling People of Freedom party, publicly crossed swords at a party congress on Thursday, when Mr. Fini accused his boss of stifling internal debate and giving too much power to the pro-autonomy Northern League.

Speaking in a television interview on Sunday, Mr. Fini said he was proud of having “torn the veil of hypocrisy” that gave a false impression of blanket internal party agreement.

Mr. Fini said he had no intention of heeding Mr. Berlusconi’s call for him to resign as speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, and he and his followers would “only respect party decisions that are discussed and motivated.”

SPAIN

Catalans go to polls in symbolic vote

MADRID | Several hundred towns in Catalonia went to the polls Sunday to vote in symbolic referendums on independence for the wealthy northeastern region of Spain, organizers said.

A total of 211 municipalities — representing 1.3 million of Catalonia’s 7 million inhabitants — were asked: “Are you in favor of Catalonia becoming a social, democratic and independent state, and member of the European Union?”

In December, identical referendums were held in 166 other towns and villages and 94 percent of Catalans in those area answered “yes” to the same question, though the turnout was just 30 percent of the 700,000 inhabitants.

The referendums, organized by local associations and supported by some political parties and unions, are not legally binding.

UNITED KINGDOM

Hawking warns against alien contact

LONDON | British astrophysicist Stephen Hawking says aliens are out there, but it could be too dangerous for humans to interact with extraterrestrial life.

Mr. Hawking claims in a new documentary that intelligent alien life-forms almost certainly exist, but warns that communicating with them could be “too risky.”

The 68-year-old scientist says a visit by extraterrestrials to Earth would be like Christopher Columbus arriving in the Americas, “which didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans.”

He speculates that most extraterrestrial life will be similar to microbes, or small animals — but said advanced life-forms may be “nomads, looking to conquer and colonize.”

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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