Winter keeps Europe in its grip

More than 100 people have died since the cold snap began last week

BELGRADE, Serbia | February 3, 2012

Winter kept its icy grasp on central and eastern Europe Friday, as officials blame the freezing weather for more than 130 deaths.

Officials said 11,000 Serbians were trapped by heavy snow in mountain villages and another 300 people were stranded in Bosnia, where food and medical supplies were flown in by helicopters, the British publication The Guardian reported.

The frigid conditions forced the the airport in Montenegro's capital of Podgorica to close.

The homeless in Poland, where temperatures fell to minus-7 degrees F, have been directed away from unheated buildings into shelters, officials said.

At least eight deaths were reported in Poland Thursday, bringing the death toll in that country since last week to 37, the BBC said.

More than 1,000 schools were closed in Bulgaria, The Guardian reported.

Negative temperature readings were reported across European capitals from France to Greece.

More freezing weather was expected in Ukraine, where more than 100 people have died since the cold snap began last week, the BBC reported. Thousands of Ukrainians have been treated for cold-related conditions.

Schools and colleges were closed and officials set up 3,000 heating and food shelters across the country. Health officials told hospitals not to discharge homeless patients to save them from the cold.

Organizers of an anti-government rally Saturday in Moscow scrambled to find ways to encourage people to leave their homes to attend the protest, The New York Times said.

Besides suggestions of offering warm drinks to protesters, there have been calls for the political speeches to be limited and the rally kept short.

"Otherwise, many will freeze," said Grigory Chxartishvili, known as the writer Boris Akunin. "And afterward our rally will be blamed for causing the flu and pneumonia."

A wintry mix of snow and rain reached Rome Friday, forcing schools to close, ANSA reported.

Officials in Milan reported a homeless person died because of the weather.

The weather also interrupted rail and power service in several regions.

France's national weather forecaster put 28 departments on "orange" alert, the second-highest warning it issues, because of the cold weather, snow and ice, The Local of France reported Friday.

The Alsace, Lorraine and Franche-Comte regions in the east were adversely affected by the cold Thursday, as were the central regions of Correze, Creuse and Cantal, officials said. Palm trees in the Mediterranean Sea port of Marseille were snow-covered.

Residents in Brittany, Alpes-Maritimes, Var and Monaco were asked to limit utility consumption because the energy grid was taxed, The Local said.

One nation trying to take advantage of the cold is the Netherlands, where officials have banned boats on some of Amsterdam's canals and closed pumps in hopes the water would freeze for speed skating, The Guardian said. Authorities said they hope to stage the Elfstedentocht, a 125-mile skate over frozen canals and lakes in the country's north. The Elfstedentocht has been run 15 times since the first official event in 1909.

2012 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved

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