News Friday, APRIL 03th, 1998

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Radio Prague E-news date: April 3rd, 1998 written/read by: Daniela Lazarova

Hello and welcome to the programme. I'm DL and we begin as usual with a look at the main newsstories this hour

Those were the headlines and now the news in more detail:

Election date set

President Vaclav Havel has signed a decree calling early general elections on June 19th and 20th. In preparation for this step the President last week signed a constitutional amendment halving the term of the current Lower House to two years. There is general political consensus that an early poll is the most appropriate means of resolving the political crisis following the fall of former prime minister Vaclav Klaus' centre-right coalition. The main opposition party of Social Democrats are widely expected to win the elections but they may not be able to muster a majority even with the help of the Christian Democrats and the Pensioners' party. If the June vote leads to a stalemate the alternative will be a minority cabinet or a grand right-left coalition.

Coal miners' strike alert over

The coal miners' strike alert is over. Held in protest of government plans to speed up privatization of state owned shares in three north Bohemian brown-coal mines, the strike alert lasted for almost a week and ended at 3pm Thursday afternoon. Trade unions called it off after vice-premier Josef Lux and industry minister Karel Kuhnl offered guarantees of future employment to the tens of thousands of miners who feared lay-offs. "We are not against privatization as such" a trade union representative told the ctk newsagency "but we needed social and environmental guarantees. We trust the government will keep its word".

BIS head cries foul

Karel Vulterin, head of the Czech Secret Service /BIS/ has sharply rejected claims that he had abused his position and mismanaged funds. Parliament's supervisory committee for the BIS has launched an investigation into Vulterin's activities after information from several sources reportedly warned of irregular practices. The most recent of these was an anonymous letter sent to the committee. "We would not as a rule act on the grounds of an anonymous letter" - the committee's chairman Jaroslav Basta told the press. "However there have been other warnings which we simply cannot ignore." Vulterin himself has welcomed the investigation as a chance to clear his name and has requested a meeting with prime minister Josef Tosovsky.

The Secret Service has been dogged by problems, the most recent of which are accusations of negligence and amateurism with respect to the much publicized affair of Libyan investment in Czech hotels.

Social Democrat leader needs reassurance

Social Democrat leader Milos Zeman is seriously considering tendering his resignation from the top party post . This was confirmed by one of his closest associates Stanislav Gross who told Czech radio Thursday that Zeman was feeling exhausted in the wake of the Bamberk party financing scandal and clearly felt the need of reassurance regarding support from associates and rank and file members. I believe he will get it, Gross said. If he tenders his resignation it will most likely be refused.

Hopes for same-sex registered partnerships dashed

The Lower House of Parliament on Thursday failed to approve a law which would have allowed same-sex registered partnerships. Out of 161 mps present in the house 83 voted against it. 57 voted in favour. Those against were deputies for the Republican party, the ODS, ODA and the Christian Democrats. SOHO, the local association of gays and lesbians expressed disappointment but said it was determined to get the issue back on Parliament's agenda after the June elections.

Czech-Austrian talks

Czech environment minister Martin Bursik on Thursday met with his Austrian counterpart Martin Bartenstein for one-on-one talks in Paris. Both officials said later the talks had focused on nuclear safety, which is, among other things, a precondition for EU membership. Their talks have aroused some speculation in view of the fact that the new Czech environment minister has announced plans to submit alternatives to the completion of the nuclear power plant under construction in southern Bohemia. Austria has repeatedly called for the construction of Temelin to be halted on the grounds of nuclear safety.

And finally, the weather - no significant change there, Friday should be overcast with occasional drizzle and day temps between 13 and 17 degrees C.