News Friday, FEBRUARY 27th, 1998

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Radio Prague E-news Date: 27.2.1998 Written/read by: David Vaughan

Hello and welcome to Radio Prague. I'm David Vaughan. First the headlines.

And now the news in more detail.

PARLIAMENT

The lower house of the Czech Parliament has taken a first step towards its own dissolution in preparation for an early general election this summer. Members of Parliament approved a constitutional bill presented by the opposition Social Democrats that will halve the length of the current electoral term. Under the bill, which was passed by a large majority, the election will have to take place before the thirtieth of June this year. Unofficial sources suggest that the most likely date is the nineteenth and twentieth of June. The bill will now be debated in the Czech Senate, where it is expected to face a tougher ride than in the lower house, as many Senators are opposed to what they see as interference in the constitution.

In another debate connected with the forthcoming election Parliament's lower house has rejected a bill that would have enabled Czech citizens living abroad to take part in the election. Votes against the bill came mainly from left-of-centre parties and the far right-wing Republicans. The bill would also have reduced the timespan of the election from two days to one. The Interior Minister, Cyril Svoboda, who proposed the bill, said that he was deeply disappointed, and believed that every Czech citizen should have the right to vote.

THANKS TO SHEVARDNADZE

The Czech Foreign Ministry has thanked the Georgian President, Edward Shevardnadze, for his role in resolving the hostage crisis, in which a Czech citizen was among a number of United Nations observers kidnapped in Georgia by supporters of the former President Zviad Gamsakhurdia. President Shevardnadze held talks with the kidnappers prior to the peaceful resolution of the crisis. The ministry has also pointed to the role played by a telephone conversation last Friday between Czech President Havel and Mr Shevardnadze. They had agreed to act calmly in trying to secure the release of the hostages without bloodshed.

PRAGUE MAYOR SURVIVES

Prague's Mayor, Jan Koukal, has survived a town hall confidence vote by the narrowest of margins. The vote was called after Mr Koukal's controversial decision last December to call a demonstration on Prague's Wenceslas Square in support of his close political ally, Vaclav Klaus. This was just after Mr Klaus had resigned as Prime Minister, after his government had collapsed over rumours of a financial scandal involving his party. Twenty-seven city councillors voted for Mr Koukal's dismissal, one short of the number needed.

SUPREME COURT OVERRULING

The Czech Supreme Court has overruled the highly controversial verdict of a local court in the South Bohemian town of Pisek, in connection with the death of a young Romany boy, Tibor Danihel, who drowned four years ago while he was being attacked by a group of skinhead youths. The Supreme Court investigated the sentences imposed on the skinheads on the request of Justice Minister, Vlasta Parkanova. It has concluded that the sentences were too lenient, and that the court proceedings were not in accordance with the law, because the youths were never charged with murder. It has now requested the regional court in Ceske Budejovice to reopen proceedings in preparation for a fresh trial.

THE CZECHS, RUSSIA AND NATO

The Chairman of the Czech Senate, Petr Pithart, has said that his main conclusion from his visit to Moscow last week, is that Russian foreign policy has now come to terms with NATO expansion. He said that during his talks with Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, the Czech Republic's accession to the Alliance was not an issue, and added that the Defence Minister Igor Sergeyev also described NATO expansion as the "new reality".

MINISTER LEAVES PARTY

The Trade and Industry Minister Karel Kuhnl has become the latest member of the Civic Democratic Alliance to leave the party, in the light of investigations into its finances. He has written to the acting party leader, Daniel Kroupa, and to his local party organisation, announcing his decision, stressing that his reasons for leaving are personal, and that his intention is not to damage the party. The former Alliance leader Jiri Skalicky has also announced that he is to leave the party in the next few days.

NEW MINISTER

President Havel is to instate the new Environment Minister Martin Bursik, today. Up to now Mr Bursik has acted as the chief environment spokesman at Prague's town hall. He is replacing Jiri Skalicky, who resigned over his party's financial dealings last week. Mr Bursik will probably only enjoy four months in office, in the run-up to the forthcoming election.

WEATHER

And I'll end with a quick look at the weather.

Today it will stay warm and wet, with temperatures getting up to between 9 and 13 degrees Celsius. Over the weekend, with cold air coming in from the north-west, we can expect it to get much colder. On Saturday temperatures will be between 4 and 8 degrees and on Sunday between -1 and 3, with cloudy skies and snow showers.

And that's the end of the news.