News Friday, FEBRUARY 18th, 2000

Hello and a very warm welcome to the programme. First we start with a look at the main headlines of the day:

You are tuned to Radio Prague. Those were the headlines, now the new in full:

Czech Diplomat expelled

A Czech diplomat has been expelled from Russia. He was working at the Czech Embassy, in the Defence Department. Although the Czech Foreign Ministry has declined to comment, there is speculation that his expulsion comes after a similar move by the Czech Foreign Ministry against a Russian diplomat in Prague. Ties between Russia and the Czech Republic have been strained in recent months. Last year, Russia objected to a visit to Prague by a Chechen official. New Czech laws for foreigners seeking residency in the Czech Republic have also raised Russian hackles and the Russian campaign in Chechnya has drawn plenty of criticism from the Czech government.

Kasal's controversial visit to Austria

Jan Kasal, leader of the Czech right of Centre opposition party, the Christian Democrats, defended his visit this Friday to Austria. He told journalists on Thursday that the purpose of the visit is to defend Czech interests. On Friday, Mr Kasal is meeting with leader of the Austrian Christian Democrats and Chancellor Wolfgang Schussel. Kasal said the main point of his visit is to discuss Czech – Austrian ties. He is the first senior Czech politician to visit Austria, since the formation of the new government in Vienna.

This comes as Austrian Foreign Minister Benita Ferrer-Waldner, said on Wednesday, that as far as her government is concerned, there is no connection between the issues of Czech membership of the European Union and Czech - Austrian problems left over from World War Two. Speaking to Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan, she allegedly said that Austrian Foreign Policy is determined by herself, the President and the Chancellor. A spokesman said that while Jan Kavan welcomed Benita Ferrer-Waldner’s statements, Prague would keep a close eye on the stance of the Austrian government during future EU discussions on Czech preparations. The inclusion of the far right Freedom Party in the new Austrian government has sent panic waves through Czech political circles. Leader of the Freedom Party, Joerg Haider has often played on anti - immigrant sentiment and concern over the Czech power plant Temelin which is near the border with Austria.

IMF preparations

Czech officials have drawn up a tight security plan for the annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund in Prague, this September. They say they want to avoid the violent clashes seen at recent conferences in Seattle and Davos. Local media estimate an additional 20 00 demonstrators will descend on Prague to protest.

Communists anti NATO EU and Havel

The Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia, which is second in the opinion polls, said on Thursday that the party intends to pursue a policy which would see the Czech Republic leaving NATO. Chairman Miroslav Grebenicek told reporters in Prague, that the party also rejects the current face of the European Union. He said the Communist party would only consent to EU membership if a referendum was held first. Grebenicek also launched a scathing attack on President Vaclav Havel’s speech delivered on Wednesday in Strasbourg, in which Havel cited the creation of an EU defence system without the United Nations’ mandate. The leader of the Czech communist party said on Thursday that this is an absurd idea, adding that he believes the President has lost all sense of judgement.

ODS popularity increases

The latest poll released on Thursday, has revealed that the largest Czech opposition party, the Civic Democrats, has gained support after deepening an informal power sharing deal with the ruling Social Democrat party. The poll by a state funded Public Opinion Research Institute, showed that the Civic Democrats are in the lead with 21.5% support, up from 21% in January. The Communist Party remained second at 20.5% still ahead of the Social Democrats, who have 18% compared to the same period last year, when they had 29%.

And we end as usual with a brief look at the weather:

Friday will see more of the cold weather we’ve been having over the last few days with scattered snow showers and cloudy overcast skies. Daytime temperatures will range from 1 to 5 degrees Celsius, dropping overnight to -6. And that's the news