News Friday, DECEMBER 15th, 2000

By Rob Cameron

Four-Party Coalition chooses Pithart as Senate chairman candidate

The opposition Four-Party Coalition has chosen its candidate for the post of Senate chairman. The coalition of four right-of-centre opposition parties selected the upper house's current deputy chairman, Petr Pithart, to stand for the post. Mr Pithart, who was nominated by the centre-right Christian Democrats, served as the Senate's first chairman from 1994 to 1998. He was succeeded by Civic Democrat Senator Libuse Benesova, following the signing of a power-sharing deal between the opposition Civic Democrats and the ruling Social Democrats. But the two parties lost control of the upper house in recent Senate elections, and no longer command enough votes to determine who becomes chairman. The Four-Party Coalition now controls 39 of the 81 seats in the upper house, and Mr Pithart is virtually assured the post. If elected, he faces the task of improving the Senate's popularity with the public. Around 25 percent of people bothered to vote in the recent elections, and more than half say the upper house should be abolished altogether.

Spanish IMF protestor: I was beaten by masked policemen

A Spanish law student who was arrested during September's IMF/World Bank meeting in Prague says he was beaten by a group of masked police officers while being detained at Prague's Pankrac prison. Gaizka Azkona, speaking to the Czech News Agency, confirmed claims by Danish student Mads Traerup, who told reporters he and other protestors had been beaten with truncheons and denied food, sleep and legal assistance after being arrested during anti-IMF demonstrations in the Czech capital. Mr Traerup was released last week after almost three months in custody. The Czech Interior Ministry has rejected the first two of thirty complaints of police brutality during the meetings. The Czech Prison Service has also denied the allegations, while the Czech police has said the claims are part of a foreign campaign to discredit the Czech Republic.

Former policeman among suspects in year's biggest drugs haul

Prosecutors in the town of Hradec Kralove have charged three men in connection with the country's biggest drugs haul this year. Three men, one of whom is a former policeman, are accused of smuggling some 70 kilograms of heroin into the Czech Republic from Turkey. The three men, one of whom is Polish, could spend up to 15 years in prison if found guilty. The heroin had a street value estimated at 70 million crowns.

Havel expresses relief over US elections

The Czech President, Vaclav Havel, has said that the resolution of the battle for the United States presidency is a sign of the country's ability to resolve difficult situations in a democratic and constitutional way. However, some Czech politicians and observers have expressed concern over the US Supreme Court's decision. Former Czechoslovak Foreign Minister, Jiri Dienstbier, said Mr Bush's authority would be seriously undermined if it emerges later that Mr Gore won the most votes in Florida. The chairman of the Senate's foreign relations committee, Michael Zantovsky, said U.S. foreign policy would probably assume a similar character to that advocated by the former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, and would place a greater emphasis on defending American interests.

Havel meets Belarus opposition

And President Havel has expressed his deep respect for the democratic opposition forces in Belarus for their strength of vision in agreeing to put forward a common candidate for the country's forthcoming Presidential elections. During a meeting with Belarussian opposition politicians in Prague on Wednesday, Mr Havel said that he hoped for a Europe free of authoritarian regimes. The President's spokesman said Mr Havel had held the meeting to remind the public of the extent to which human rights were under threat in Belarus.


And finally, a look at the weather. Saturday will be another cloudy day with showers in places, and daytime temperatures between one and three degrees Celsius.