News Friday, FEBRUARY 13th, 1998

Radio Prague E-News Date: February 13, 1998 Written/read by: Vladimir Tax

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.

Lower house backs NATO membership

The lower house of the Czech parliament, the Chamber of Deputies, on Thursday gave its initial backing to Czech NATO membership when it passed a government proposal on accession to the Washington treaty in the first reading. The lower house rejected a move to delay further consideration of the plan, and allowed it to go for further discussion.

Premier Tosovsky, who had said that pressing ahead with NATO membership talks is a key task of his caretaker government, welcomed the decision, saying it would cheer investors as a sign of Czech political stability. He also said he was convinced that the present Chamber of Deputies would say the final word on the the Czech Republic's NATO accession.

The government's proposal now goes forward for up to 60 days of discussion in parliamentary committees before a second vote.

The four right-wing parties in the parliament support NATO membership unconditionally, the communists and the far-right republicans oppose it. The Social Democrats back the Czech Republic's NATO membership but demand a referendum on the issue, and have been trying to delay a final vote on membership until after an early general election, which is expected in June.

Social Democrat leader and the Chamber of Deputies speaker Milos Zeman told journalists on Thursday that his party continues to hold the view that the Czech Republic's entry into NATO should only be approved by the Chamber of Deputies which will emerge from early parliamentary elections.

He said that the Social Democrats were still pressing for a referendum on NATO membership and the first bill they intended to submit after early elections would be a bill on referenda. He added that his party would recommend that all its voters support entry into NATO in a referendum, if it was held.

Havel ill again

Czech President Vaclav Havel was taken to hospital on Thursday suffering from a fever which was probably caused by a viral disease, his spokesman Ladislav Spacek told CTK referring to a report by the team of doctors' looking after Havel. He added the illness was already receding.

Miroslav Cerbak from the Health Ministry, who coordinates the team of doctors, said that an X-ray showed an aggravated disorder of ventilation in a part of Havel's right lung.

Spacek said that president Havel, who has been through periods of ill health after cancer surgery in late 1996, was in satisfactory condition and still undergoing tests at the hospital in Prague. He added it was not clear when the president would leave hospital.

President Havel had a small cancerous tumour removed from his right lung in December 1996 and since then has suffered from sporadic bouts of pneumonia, compounded by bronchitis.

NATO enlargement ratification process begins in Germany

A bill ratifying the enlargement of the NATO alliance to include the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland was supported by a majority of MPs in the German parliament in its first reading on Thursday.

Ratification in the German parliament is expected to receive widespread, even as much as 90-percent support at the end of April when the final vote is held.

German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel in his introductory speech described NATO's decision to expand to the East as a historic step, whose implementation together with the launch of a single European currency would be the most significant event of 1999.

Kinkel stressed that accepting the three new members was only the first step and the Alliance would remain open to further expansion in the future.

Some like it strong, Pilip does not

Finance minister Ivan Pilip on Thursday expressed his worries about excessive strenghtening of the Czech crown. The Czech crown's exchange rate hit the 19-crowns-per-German-mark level on Tuesday and hovered around 18.90 on Wednesday.

Minister Pilip said strenghtening of the crown can be beneficial in the short-term view with regard to inflation, but in his opinion, the current trend does not reflect the overall situation of the economy and can lead to an accumulation of negative factors which could result in sudden and heavy pressure on the crown.

After minister Pilip's speech, the crown weakened a little, but some attribute it to the announcement of president Havel's illness.

Germans misunderstood coordination council -- Sedivy

Czech foreing Minister Jarosl;av Sedivy has criticized the composition of the Czech-German Discussion Forum is part of the two countries' post-war reconcilliation treaty.

Sedivy told journalists on Thursday that in his opinion, the prestigious composition of the Discussion Forum's coordination council on the part of Germany reflects its misunderstanding by Bonn.

He said by nominating some prominent politicians, Germany showed that it misunderstood what the coordination council is, refferring to former foreign minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher and Kurt Biedenkopf, the Minister-President of Saxony.

The council's task is to prepare various discussions and meetings, which involves a certain organisational work, Sedivy said, adding that the Czech side correctly understood that the coordination council was not set up as a team to face the German team in any public discussion.

Stat budget surplus (?)

According to the latest estimates by the Czech finance ministry, the state budget this year could end with a surplus of one to three billion crowns, which is about two percent of the overall budget. Deputy finance minister Libor Svoboda announced this on Thursday.

Czech weather report

And finally, a quick look at the weather. We are expecting a mostly cloudy day with scattered showers, afternoon highs should range from 9 to 13 degrees Celsius. At the weekend, it should be much the same as on Friday, cloudy with showers, with temperatures around 10 degrees Celsius.

And that's the end of the news.