News Friday, FEBRUARY 02th, 2001

By: Daniela Lazarova

Senate chairman to meet with Cuban leader

The Chairman of the Czech upper house of Parliament, Petr Pithart, is still waiting to meet with the Cuban President Fidel Castro to try to negotiate the release of two Czech citizens who have been held in Cuba on subversion charges for the last three weeks. Mr. Pithart has already held talks with a number of high-level Cuban officials and the Czech Foreign Ministry has expressed optimism regarding the outcome of the planned meeting with Fidel Castro. However the Cuban side has not disclosed the time of the meeting, saying their leader would meet with the Czech official in his own time. After a futile 24 hour wait in his hotel suite Mr. Pithart decided to extend his stay in Cuba by another 48 hours, canceling a planned meeting with Russian foreign minister Igor Ivanov which was to have taken place in Prague today. Havana has been under growing pressure from the international community to release the detainees. According to the CTK news agency both the Czech government and President Havel have used all possible diplomatic channels to try and secure their release, but no details of these efforts have been disclosed to the press.

Danish student freed by Prague court verdict

All charges have been dropped against Danish student Mads Traerup who was arrested during the protests which accompanied the September session of the IMF and WB in Prague and charged with assaulting two police officers. The eighteen year old was alleged to have attacked one officer with a piece of wood and injured another with a cobblestone. A Prague court ruled on Thursday that there was insufficient evidence that Mads Traerup was guilty of the charges. The state attorney, who had demanded a fine of 500.000 Czech crowns for Traerup, has said she will appeal the verdict.

Hranice faces huge fine

The Moravian town of Hranice may face a million crown fine for violating the terms of a contract with the TV giant Phillips. Phillips is building its biggest TV factory on the continent in Hranice, but the Hranice town hall has so far failed to acquire the last remaining piece of land earmarked for the TV factory. According to the terms of the contract, the sale was due to have been completed by the end of last year, but following initial negotiating problems regarding the price, the owner of the property is now demanding a sum of money which the mayor is not willing to pay. Although Philips has as yet made no move to impose a fine, it could demand the equivalent of ten thousand euros for every day of procrastination.

Russian Foreign Minister to hold talks in Prague

The Russian foreign minister Igor Ivanov is paying a one day visit to the Czech Republic today. Bilateral talks with President Havel, Prime Minister Milos Zeman and Foreign Minister Jan Kavan are expected to focus on the present state of Czech-Russian relations, the European integration process and European security. It is the first visit by a Russian foreign minister in the past seven years and observers expect it to bring a revitalization of Czech-Russian relations.

President Havel in France

Franco-Czech relations and the European integration process topped the agenda of a meeting between the French head of state, President Jacques Chirac and visiting Czech President Vaclav Havel on Thursday. Mr Havel, who paid a one day state visit to France, thanked President Chirac for his country's contribution to the EU enlargement process during its term in the EU presidency and expressed satisfaction with the outcome of the EU summit in Nice. President Chirac said that the process of EU internal reform was on track and suggested that candidates for membership should accelerate their preparations for joining the Union.

At a ceremony that has been described as the "cultural highlight of the visit" President Havel received the first-ever Grand Prize of the World Academy of Culture created in 1992 by Nobel Prize Winner Elie Wiesel. The Czech President received the prize for his literary work and his contribution to the cause of democracy and human rights.

Two more people charged in IPB fraud case

Two more people have been charged in connection with large-scale fraud at the IPB bank. The bank's former deputy director Libor Prochazka and eight former employees at various levels of management have been charged with defrauding the bank of an estimated 30 million dollars in the late 1990s. According to the CTK news agency Mr. Prochazka has denied the charges, saying that all financial transactions which he had approved were perfectly legal.

Srejber temporarily released from custody

The former tennis star turned entrepreneur Milan Srejber, who was recently sentenced to five and a half years in prison for fraud, has been temporarily released from custody, pending an appeal against his conviction. Mr Srejber left Pankrac prison at 2pm on Thursday, telling a crowd of waiting journalists his attorney would issue a statement later. The former tennis star is best known for secretly donating millions of crowns to the right-of-centre Civic Democratic Party, a controversial gift which hastened the collapse of the Civic Democrat- dominated government in November of 1997.

And finally a look at the weather:

Friday will be another very cold day with scattered snow showers and day temps between minus 1 and minus 5 degs C. Nighttime temps are expected to drop to ten degs below zero.