EUROPE ““ (BBC) More deaths have been reported from the cold snap across Europe, which has already claimed more than 200 lives. Ukraine continues to be hardest hit, with another nine deaths overnight. Officials say 131 have now died, most of them homeless people, and 1,800 people have been taken to the hospital. Eight people died in Poland overnight, police say, bringing the toll to 53. Transport hubs have also been hit, with London’s Heathrow Airport only running 50% of services on Sunday. At least four have died in France, while 43 departments in France have been put on alert for “exceptional” weather conditions. The Italian capital, Rome, has seen its heaviest snowfall in more than 25 years, with runs on essential goods at supermarkets reported. “The snow is beautiful, but let’s hope spring comes soon,” Pope Benedict XVI told the small number of pilgrims who braved the cold to go to St. Peter’s Square.
FINLAND ““ (BBC) Conservative former Finance Minister Sauli Niinisto has won presidential elections in Finland. Mr. Niinisto secured 63% of the vote in Sunday’s run-off poll, easily beating his Green rival Pekka Haavisto (37%), according to official results. “This has been a very good”¦campaign. I’m happy about it,” Mr. Niinisto said. The 63-year-old pro-European politician will take over from President Tarja Halonen in March, becoming the nation’s first conservative head since 1956. In his victory speech, he pledged to be, “the president of the whole nation.” Finland’s president has a largely ceremonial role and is not directly involved in daily politics. Mr. Niinisto won the first round of the election in January, but failed to secure the majority required to avoid the run-off. He served as the Nordic nation’s finance minister from 1996 to 2003, overseeing the country’s adoption of the euro in 2002.
FRANCE ““ (BBC) Unions representing French pilots, cabin crew, and ground staff have announced a four-day strike next week. Workers plan to strike from Monday to Thursday to protest against a bill currently going through parliament. The bill, put forward by President Nicolas Sarkozy’s party, would require aviation workers to give more notice of industrial action. Unions say the bill, which has already passed through the lower house, would affect workers’ rights. Air France says its customers due to travel between February 6th and 9th can change their flights. In a statement, the airline said it was doing “all it can to limit the impact of this strike on its operations.”
GREECE ““ (BBC) Party leaders in Greece’s ruling coalition have ended talks on backing a proposed 130 billion euros EU rescue plan without agreement. Prime Minister Lucas Papademos was seeking the three party chiefs’ support for reforms demanded by the IMF and EU as a condition of the bailout. Papademos had hoped to reach a deal with the leaders by Sunday night, but talks have now been moved to a later date. The money must be in place by mid-March if Athens is to avoid a debt default. Greece cannot afford to lose the bailout package and a lot now rides on these talks. Athens faces loan repayments to private lenders of 14.4 bn euros ($19 billion) on March 20th.
HUNGARY ““ (BBC) The Hungarian national airline Malev has folded after its financial situation became unsustainable. “At 500 GMT”¦after 66 years of almost continuous operation, Malev will no longer take off,” it said. It came after the European Commission ordered Malev to repay various forms of state aid received from 200 7 to 2010. The sums involved amounted to 38 billion forints (130m euros; $171 million), a sum equal to its entire 2010 revenue. “Despite its best interests, the owner can no longer provide financial resources for the operation of the airline in the wake of the condemning decision of the European Commission,” an airline statement said. The European Consumer Organization, which “defends the interests of all Europe’s consumers,” said the news came after Spanair’s collapse in the same week.
ITALY ““ (BBC) Roman Catholic leaders have begun an unprecedented summit in Rome on how the church should tackle the sexual abuse of children by priests. In a Vatican statement, Pope Benedict said “healing for victims” should be a major concern as much as “profound renewal of the Church at every level.” The summit aims to produce guidelines on tackling abusive priests and helping police to proscute pedophile crime. Victims’ groups, who were not invited, have dismissed it as a PR exercise. “This is just a PR stunt. It’s just theater really. It’s no use whatsoever,” said Ms. Sue Cox (herself a victim of abuse by a priest) of Survivors Voice, a coalition of victim support groups covering Britain, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, and the United States.
RUSSIA ““ (BBC) Tens of thousands of people have marched in Russia’s capital Moscow in protest at Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s grip on power. It was the third rally since December’s parliamentary election was marred by allegations of vote-rigging. Supporters of Putin, who will stand in next month’s presidential election, held their own rally at a different location. People at the rallies braved temperatures as low as -19 C. The BBC’s Daniel Sandford in Moscow says it appeared as if the rally was of a similar size to last time, which organizers put at 120,000 people. Moscow police say only 23,000 people turned out on Saturday. Police also put the number of people at the pro-Putin rally in the west of the capital at around 90,000 people, but other reports said the figure was much lower. “Everyone is here of their own free will,” one protestor in the “˜For Honest Elections’ march said. “Some of my friends were forced by their employers to go to the Pro-Putin rally ““ otherwise, they would be fired.” The turnout was seen as a key indicator of whether the protest movement against Mr. Putin still has momentum, observers say.
UNITED KINGDOM ““ (BBC) The Queen has visited a school in Norfolk, England as she marks the 60th anniversary of her accession to the throne. Earlier she said she was dedicating herself “anew to your service” and that she was “deeply moved” by support for the Diamond Jubilee. Gun salutes were held around the United Kingdom, including in London and Edinburgh. The main celebrations for her anniversary will be in June. “With experience, dignity, and quiet authority, she has guided and united our nation and the Commonwealth over six varied decades,” Prime Minister David Cameron said. Cameron also praised the “magnificent service” given by the Queen and called her a “source of wisdom and continuity.”