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Europe: Flu Epidemic Strikes Many

Prague, 6 February 1997 (RFE/RL) - A winter outbreak of flu is reported in regions across Europe, striking hundreds of thousands including politicial and religious leaders.

In Belarus, some 300,000 have fallen ill since an outbreak there last month. Itar-Tass quotes chief epidemiologist Anatoly Kozhemyakin as saying that children make up nearly half the registered cases.

Health officials in Hungary say more than 60,000 cases have been reported there in the last week. Among those striken is Prime Minister Gyula Horn, who was forced to cancel a trip to Canada planned for this weekend. The Hungarian state-run MTI news agency says 19 people have died from the flu in the last few weeks.

A number of fatalities have also been reported in Russia since a flu epidemic first struck many cities last month. Health officials in St. Petersburg reported earlier this week that 140,000 people are now suffering from the flu in that city, more than half of them children. Thirteen of the city's 500 schools have been closed. Moscow, Volgograd and the Urals city of Perm have also been hard hit.

The Vatican yesterday announced that Pope John Paul II had cancelled his weekly general audience and other appointments because he is stricken with the flu. The pontiff's personal physician has ordered bed rest.

And the president of Russia's autonomous region of Tatarstan, Mintimer Shaimiev, is also reported ill with the flu. He was forced to cancel a planned meeting yesterday with Canada's Ambassador to the Russian Federation, Anne Likhi.