News Friday, JANUARY 19th, 2001

By: Rob Cameron

Lower house to send delegation to Cuba to negotiate Pilip, Bubenik release

The lower house of the Czech Parliament is to send a six-person delegation to Cuba to try to negotiate the release of Czech MP Ivan Pilip and his colleague Jan Bubenik, who are being detained by the Cuban authorities on charges of subversion. The delegation will be headed by the deputy head of the lower house, Petra Buzkova. The Czech government has also asked the European Union and several nations with ties to Cuba to help pressure Havana to free the two men. The Czech Prime Minister, Milos Zeman, has written to the Cuban President Fidel Castro asking him to release the two immediately. Mr Pilip and Mr Bubenik were arrested last Friday in the town of Ciego de Avila, after meeting Cuban human rights activists. Reports in the state-controlled Cuban media says the two are U.S. agents, and will be tried for counter-revolutionary activities.

Battle for Czech TV continues: journalists make embezzlement claims

The struggle for control of the country's public television station, Czech Television, continues, with both sides making accusations of serious financial mismanagement. Striking employees at the station warned on Thursday that large amounts of money were being siphoned out of the organisation. They have sent a letter to the Prime Minister Milos Zeman and lower house speaker Vaclav Klaus calling for a forensic audit into the station's finances. The station's Financial Director, Ladislav Paluska, said he had temporarily taken control of the running of the station on Wednesday to prevent any further losses, but denied reports of a putsch. Meanwhile the new management of Czech Television, appointed by General Director Jiri Hodac before his resignation last week, have threatened to stop all payments at the station. They described the situation at Czech TV as anarchy.

Senate rejects TV bill

The Czech Senate narrowly rejected a law on Wednesday intended to end the dispute. Senators criticised the law adopted on Saturday by the lower house aimed at diluting the influence of politicians over Czech Television, saying it did not bring the row any closer to resolution. The lower house is expected to easily override the veto since the two main parties, the Social Democrats and Civic Democratic Party, command a solid majority. If the lower house does override the Senate, the bill will then go straight to the president, who also has the right to veto it. The bill's main provision is that future directors be chosen by a supervisory board whose members are nominated by professional and civic groups, not by politicians. The lower house would, however, still reserve the sole right to choose members of the board. The strike by station employees has won massive public support. Rebel journalists claimed Mr Hodac would not protect Czech Television from political interference.

Man shot dead during IPB robbery

A man has been killed in an armed robbery at a branch of the IPB bank in Prague. The man died in hospital after being shot in the chest. Police say a woman was also injured in the robbery and is recovering in hospital. Both were reported to be clients of the bank. Police are now looking for the culprit, who is described as a man aged around 30 years old. The robber, who was armed with a hand grenade and a pistol, made off with around 20 million crowns.

Czech Army to widen Balkan Syndrome testing

The Czech Army has said it is to increase the number of health tests among soldiers serving in peacekeeping missions in Bosnia and Kosovo, amid rising concerns over so-called Balkan Syndrome. A senior Czech Army medical officer stressed, however, that there was no proof that NATO soldiers serving in the former Yugoslavia had contracted fatal diseases from exposure to depleted uranium. The officer said that Balkan Syndrome still did not exist as a recognised medical condition. There have been some 50 cases of leukaemia and other types of cancer reported among NATO soldiers in recent months.

Weather forecast

And finally, a look at the weekend's weather. It will remain very cold and mostly cloudy, with snow showers in places. Temperatures will reach between -3 and +1 degrees Celsius, and will sink to as low as -8 at night.