News Friday, APRIL 10th, 1998

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Radio Prague E-news Date: 10.4.1998 Written/read by: David Vaughan

Hello and welcome to Radio Prague. I'm David Vaughan, and I'll start with the headlines.

And now the news in more detail.

Havel and Government

With the prospect of a majority government after June's general election looking increasingly unlikely, President Havel has said he would be prepared to tolerate a minority government, as long as it enjoyed at least passive support from the majority in parliament. This is the first time that Mr Havel has openly pointed to the possibility of a minority government. At the same press conference he denied recent suggestions made by some Social Democrat deputies that he would not like to see their party in government.

Union Anger

Unions representing taxcollectors and other financial sector civil servants have appealed to Prime Minister Josef Tosovsky to rethink his decision to cancel a meeting to discuss their wage demands. Mr Tosovsky said that he was not prepared to act under pressure, in the wake of a protest by civil servants in front of the government headquarters earlier this week. The leader of the Chamber of Trade Unions, Richard Falbr, has described Mr Tosovsky's decision as unfortunate and foolish, and unions have threatened to take tougher action. Unions argue that wages in the state financial sector have not kept pace with inflation. They are meeting again today to discuss their next step.

Havel and Nato

President Havel has welcomed assurances by parliamentary leaders that a bill opening the way for the Czech Republic to join NATO will be passed without any difficulty at next week's session of the lower house. At his last meeting with the parliamentary leadership before dissolving parliament for June's early general election, he said that the Czech Republic's accession to NATO will be the current parliament's main legacy to future generations.

Minister in Bulgaria

The Czech Foreign Minister, Jaroslav Sedivy has been in Bulgaria, on a visit aimed at reviving economic ties between the two countries, which have virtually collapsed since the fall of communism. He said he hoped a tax agreement between the two countries, which was signed on Thursday, would be step in smoothing mutual trade. A further agreement will make it easier for the Czech Republic to send back would-be refugees from Bulgaria, passing through the country on their way to Western Europe. This is the first visit by a Czech foreign minister to Bulgaria since the fall of communism, and Bulgaria's ambassador in Prague described it as an important signal that the process of European Union and NATO expansion will not create new divisions on the continent.

Minister in Kazakhstan

Trade has also been the main focus of a visit to Kazakhstan, by a Czech delegation, led by the trade and industry minister, Karel Kuhnl. Mr Kuhnl charged the Czech firm Transgas with the task of coming to an agreement on gas imports with the Kazakh firm Kazachoil. He said he was optimistic that the deal would be a way of resolving the problem of Kazakhstan's debt to the Czech Republic, estimated at 250 million dollars. On Thursday trade minister Kuhnl also signed an agreement aimed at curbing international crime networks working between the Czech Republic and Kazakhstan.

Health Debt

The health minister, Zuzana Roithova, has informed President Havel that health insurance companies owe a staggering six billion crowns in outstanding debt to health service providers. Debts amounting to a further two billion crowns also remain outstanding after the collapse of a number of health insurance companies. Mrs Roithova defended her own reputation as minister, by arguing that the problems have been inherited from previous years. She also pointed to the huge debts faced by hospitals, adding that the greatest burden is being born by small local hospitals and hospitals run by the church or in private ownership.

Mobile Phones

A report by the ING Barings has revealed that one in seven Czechs possesses a mobile phone. This puts the country second in the post-communist stakes behind Hungary, with Slovakia in third place. The report explains the popularity of mobile phones in Hungary by pointing out that the country was the first in the region to introduce open competition in the market. But it also predicts an explosion of mobile-phone use in the Czech Republic in the next few years - estimating that over a quarter of Czechs will possess a mobile by 2006.

Weather

And I'll end with a quick look at the weather...

It's a warm day today with temperatures reaching between 14 and 18 degrees celsius. In the course of the day there may be showers and thunderstorms, and we can expect the showery weather to continue over the holiday, with increasingly cloudy skies.

And that's the end of the news.