News Friday, FEBRUARY 12th, 1999

Hello and welcome to Radio Prague. I'm Vladimir Tax and here's the news. First the headlines.

These are the main points and now the news in more detail.

NATO official to be honoured in Prague

The NATO military committee's chairman Klaus Naumann is concluding his official visit to the Czech Republic today. Naumann has been awarded a top Czech distinction, the Order of White Lion by president Havel. Earlier today he met with foreign minister Jan Kavan and senate chairwoman Libuse Benesova. On Thursday, Naumann held talks with Defence Minister Vladimir Vetchy, Premier Milos Zeman and lower house speaker Vaclav Klaus. He confirmed that the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland will become NATO members at the beginning of March, and added that NATO will expand further. Minister Vetchy assured Naumann that the Czech Republic will meet the minimum military criteria for entering NATO, including those for the air defence, communications and security by the end of February. Chamber of deputies speaker Vaclav Klaus reiterated the Czech parliament's commitment to adopt the legislation necessary for fulfilling the obligations stemming from NATO membership.

Screening may complicate Czech admission to NATO - Kovanda

A delay in the screening of people who will have access to classified information will not endanger the Czech Republic's admission into NATO in early March but it could complicate the admission process, according to the Czech ambassador to NATO Karel Kovanda. He said it wqs most likely that NATO's dissatisfaction with the Czech progress in this field will be presented to Deputy Premier Egon Lansky during his visit to Brussels on Monday.

Czechs rightist - poll

According to the latest opinion poll, a right-wing or centrist orientation prevails in the Czech society. According to a survey conducted by the Institute for Public Opinion Research, 32 percent of those asked consider themself centrist, 19 percent right-of- center and 15 percent think of themselves as right-wing oriented. On the other hand, the poll revealed that the left wing of the political spectrum is attractive for 22 percent of Czechs. The right-wing orientation prevails among white-collar professions, businessmen and people with high living standards in general. The left-wing orientation is typical for pensioners, supporters of the Social Democratic Party, the Communist Party, and people with a low standard of living.

Industrial sales down again

Industrial sales last December dropped almost 9 percent year-on- year. The Czech Statistical Office announced on Friday that in the period from January to December, industrial sales in the Czech Republic increased by 0.6 percent.

Columbian drug smuggler sentenced to 11 years in prison

A Columbian citizen has been sentenced to 11 years in prison for drug smuggling by a Czech court in the town of Hradec Kralove. The 62-year old Columbian was found guilty of smuggling almost 60 kilograms of cocaine into the Czech Republic. The mastermind of the plot, a Czech citizen with a Columbian passport, has been detained in Columbia but it is still unclear whether he will be handed over to Czech authorities.

Law on lotteries changed

The lower house of the Czech parliament has approved an amendment to the law on lotteries. Under the original law, passed last year, foreign subjects could not organize lotteries in the Czech Republic, including consumer competitions. This drew strong criticism from the European Union. The new legislation allows foreign companies to organize consumer competitions, if the winnings do not exceed two hundred thousand crowns a year. The European Commission reacted to the approval of the amendment positively. The Commission said this was a step in the right direction, and removed a roadblock between the Czech Republic and the EU, bringing Czech legislation closer to EU standards.

Havel appoints new CNB board members

President Havel has appointed four new members to the Czech National Bank board, effective on February 13. The board is the top directive body of the Central bank, and determines its policies. It has seven members, comprised of a governor, two vice- governors and four senior officials. Havel unexpectedly revealed the names of the new board members at the end of January. To much surprise among experts, he replaced four members, including vice- governor Pavel Kysilka. Economic analysts do not expect any significant changes in the Czech National Bank's policy concerning exchange-rates, since the new Czech National Bank board members have views that are very similar to those of their predecessors. Another positive aspect, the analysts agreed, is that none of the new members are politically affiliated.

Lansky and Mertlik conclude journey to Sweden

Czech deputy premiers Egon Lansky and Pavel Mertlik have ended their official visit to Sweden. Before they left Stockholm on Thursday, they informed Swedish businessmen about the Czech economic situation and investment opportunities, including government incentives. On Wednesday, they discussed EU enlargement, and business and military cooperation with high- ranking Swedish officials. The visit to Sweden was the last stop on Lansky's and Mertlik's Scandinavian tour. Last week they visited Norway, and earlier this week, Finland.

Basta's next mark: Telecom

The government's anti-corruption team, headed by minister without portfolio Jaroslav Basta, has initiated an investigation of the telecommunications monopoly SPT Telecom. Spokesman for the Prague state attorney Martin Omelka told reporters that Telecom has been accused of misusing business information. He added that investigation of Telecom's privatisation has been going on for some time.

Communists angry with Havel, and want to fight unemployment

Communist party leader Miroslav Grebenicek has accused president Havel of political racism, and asked him to step down. The reason is that Havel has called a meeting of leaders from all mainstream political parties, but has not invited the Communists.

At a press conference on Thursday, the Communist leader also called for progressive taxation of speculative capital, which, in his opinion, could help to fight unemployment. The Commnunists have also spoken in favor of introducing a 35-hour work week in order to create new jobs.

Czech weather report

Now, let's take a quick look at the weather. We are expecting a cloudy day with scattered snow showers, afternoon highs should range from 7 to 3 degrees Celsius below zero. And a brief outlook for the weekend: weather in the Czech Republic will be influenced by a low pressure area from the Balkans, which should mean cloudy to overcast skies and snowfall. Highest daytime temperatures are expected to remain below zero, ranging between 7 and 3 degrees Celsius.

And that's the end of the news.