News Friday, JANUARY 26th, 2001

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By: David Vaughan and Pavla Navratilova

Havel will not apologise over Cuba

The Czech President Vaclav Havel has firmly ruled out a suggestion that the Czech Republic should apologise to Cuba for the behaviour of two Czech citizens arrested there two weeks ago. The call came from the Cuban charge d'affaires in Prague, David Paulovich. He said there would be no further talks between the two countries until the Czech Republic apologised for what he described as the two men's "anti-regime" activities. On Thursday MPs in the lower house of the Czech parliament voted overwhelming in support of a resolution condemning the two men's arrest and calling for their release. The European Commission president, Romano Prodi, has written to President Havel, promising that the EU will do all it can to help the two Czechs. One of the men detained is the MP and former Czech finance minister, Ivan Pilip. Both face charges of espionage, after meeting Cuban dissidents two weeks ago.

Referendum bill rejected

A bill put forward by the government that would guarantee the right to a referendum in matters of national importance has been rejected by parliament. The bill would have meant that a referendum would be held on such issues as joining the European Union, but the government came well short of winning the two-thirds parliamentary majority required for a constitutional bill to be approved.

Deputy Ombudsman appointed

The appointment of the former spokeswoman for Charter 77, Anna Sabatova, as deputy to the Czech Republic's first ombudsman, Otakar Motejl, has been broadly welcomed. Members of parliament, who selected Mrs Sabatova, pointed to her long experience in defending human rights, both before and since the fall of communism. The office of ombudsman was established last year as a guarantor of human rights in the country, and the selection of ombudsman and deputy ombudsman has been accompanied by a long political debate. The choice of both Mrs Sabatova and Mr Motejl can be seen as a victory for President Havel, who supported both candidates. By contrast some MPs for the opposition Civic Democrats distanced themselves from the choice, saying that the very institution of ombudsman was an unnecessary luxury.

Temporary TV chief to be chosen on 9th February

Members of parliament and parliamentary parties have been given until Monday to put forward the names of possible candidates to act as temporary head of Czech Television. Under legislation rushed through parliament earlier this month, MPs will be able to appoint someone to run the public-service TV network until a permanent solution is reached to the crisis in Czech TV. Parliament is expected to appoint a temporary head at a special session on the ninth of February.

Havel proposes solution to electoral law vacuum

President Havel has proposed a solution to the vacuum created by Wednesday's Constitutional Court ruling on the new Czech electoral law. The court ruled that parts of the law were unconstitutional, as it created so many electoral districts that it undermined the principal of proportional representation, as laid down in the constitution. This amounted to discrimination against smaller parties. The law will now have to be amended and Mr Havel has suggested a compromise number of fourteen electoral districts, in line with the number of regional authorities in the Czech Republic. The Deputy Prime Minister, Pavel Rychetsky, agreed that this could provide a realistic solution.

Czech trade deficit with Russian has risen by 86%

New statistics show that the Czech trade deficit with Russia has risen from 35 to 65 billion crowns at the end of the year 2000; an increase of 86 percent year-on-year. This figure, which converts to over 1.8 million US dollars, results mainly from fuel and oil imports. Although motor vehicles, electrical and engineering equipment, and pharmaceuticals currently make up the majority of goods exported by the Czech Republic to Russia, the outlook for an overall increase in Czech exports to the Russian Federation remains poor. / According to the Czech trade and industry ministry this may be explained by the reluctance of Czech companies to export to Russia, as well as the possible inability of Czech companies to compete with other international companies on the Russian market.

Bank's deputy governor resigns

The deputy chairman of the board of one of the Czech Republic's biggest banks, CSOB, has resigned after the bank lost one-and-a-half billion crowns, or over forty million US dollars, through speculative investment on US capital markets. Two further managers at the bank have also handed in their resignation. The losses are thought to have resulted from poor judgement rather than corruption.

Number of travellers through the Czech Republic's main airport on the rise.

Over five-and-a-half million people passed through the Czech Republic's largest airport, Prague-Ruzyne, last year, a rise of over 15 percent from 1999. Other airports within the Czech republic have also experienced an increase in passenger numbers. Figures show an even greater increase in the transport of goods and postal services.

Aquarium to replace Stalin

Prague's City Hall has come up with a solution to the problem over what to do with the site of a vast statue of Stalin that stood in Prague's Letna Park until the 1960s. City councillors have given provisional approval to a project that will turn the site, which includes the statue's podium, into a huge maritime aquarium. Whether the project will actually be realized remains uncertain, because Prague's development plan rules that there should be nothing bigger than a duck pond or a fountain in the park.

Weather

And finally, a quick look at the weather: we can expect a cloudy but quite mild weekend, with showers, falling as snow in the mountains, and temperatures between two and six degrees Celsius. Nighttime lows will be around minus two degrees Celsius.