- - Sunday, January 2, 2011


Firms urge sanctions against Hungary

BERLIN | Thirteen leading European firms have urged the European Union to impose sanctions on Hungary for anti-competitive measures, German newspaper Die Welt reported Sunday.

In a five-page letter sent Dec. 15 to European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, the heads of the companies accused Hungary, which on Jan. 1 took over the EU’s rotating presidency, of imposing exceptional taxes on them, the newspaper’s website reported.

Among the companies who sent the letter were energy groups including Germany’s RWE and E.on, Czech firm CEZ and Austria’s OMV, as well as Dutch financial groups ING and Aegon, French insurance giant AXA and Germany’s Deutsche Telekom.

The letter reportedly urged the European Commission to put pressure on the Hungarian government to make it abandon its decision to impose “unjust financial millstones” which, the newspaper reported, cost Deutsche Telekom, for example, about $134 million in extra taxes last year at its Hungarian subsidiary Magyar Telekom.


Spain enacts tough anti-smoking law

MADRID | Tapas bars — the noisy and bustling Spanish success story that combined delicious morsels with good wine and often a cloud of cigarette smoke — are now smoke-free. So are restaurants, discos, casinos, airports and even some outdoor spaces.

Spain on Sunday introduced an anti-smoking law that is likely to turn the EU’s fourth-largest tobacco producer from a cigarette-friendly land abounding with smoky bars and restaurants, into one of Europe’s most stringently smokeless.

The law prohibits lighting up in enclosed public places, although hotels are allowed to reserve 30 percent of their rooms for smokers. In a particularly tough measure, outside smoking is banned in open-air children’s playgrounds — even those inside parks — and at access points to schools and hospitals.

Parliament approved an anti-smoking law in 2006 that prohibited smoking in the workplace but allowed bar and restaurant owners with premises under 1,100 square feet to decide whether to allow smoking or not — and almost all permitted it.

Critics called the law a failure. Health Minister Leire Pajin said around 50,000 people died each year in Spain as a result of smoking-related illnesses, with around 1,200 of those being nonsmokers who inhaled secondhand smoke.


Russia grounds Tu-154B after jet explosion

MOSCOW | Russia’s transport oversight agency on Sunday ordered the country’s airlines to stop using Tu-154B planes until the cause of a passenger jet fire and explosion that killed three people is determined.

A spokesman for the agency, Sergei Romanchev, said airlines must obey the order. It was not immediately clear how many of the planes are in service in Russia.

The Tu-154B is a variant of the Tu-154 model, which has been in service since the early 1970s and has been in wide use on Russian internal flights and extensively in other countries, including Iran and former Soviet republics.

No cause has been determined for Saturday’s fire, which also injured 43 people.

The fire began as the plane carrying 124 people taxied for takeoff at the airport in Surgut in western Siberia, about 1,350 miles east of Moscow. Frightened passengers clawed their way through the smoke-filled cabin and most managed to escape before the explosion.

Investigators have found the plane’s flight recorders and taken fuel samples and documents from the regional airline, Kogalymavia, that used the plane.

There have been more than 30 fatal incidents involving Tu-154s over their long history, but many of them were attributed to pilot error, poor maintenance or irresponsible operation.


Liberal leader Nemtsov jailed for 15 days

MOSCOW | A Moscow court Sunday sentenced Russia’s former first deputy prime minister, Boris Nemtsov, to 15 days in prison for taking part in an unsanctioned New Year’s Day opposition rally, Interfax reported.

Moscow police detained nearly 130 people in Moscow and St. Petersburg during a series of traditional end-of-month demonstrations that aim to assert Russians’ constitutional right to gather in public places.

The 300-strong Moscow crowd chanted slogans in support of the jailed Kremlin critic and former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, whose jail term was extended by six years last week, and called for broader political freedoms.

City authorities allowed the protesters to assemble on a small section of a central Moscow square a few blocks from the Kremlin.

But Russian reports said Mr. Nemtsov — who oversaw social reforms under the Boris Yeltsin administration — and a group of other opposition leaders then tried to break through the police ranks, leading to their immediate arrest.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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