News Friday, JULY 16th, 1999

Hello and welcome to Radio Prague. I´m Rob Cameron, first a look at the news headlines.

Those were the headlines, now for the news in more detail.

Svoboda under pressure to resign following bankruptcy charges

The Czech Finance Minister Ivo Svoboda is under increasing pressure to resign after being charged in connection with the 1997 bankruptcy of a pram-producing company. A police spokeswoman announced on Thursday that criminal charges had been filed against Mr Svoboda over his role in the failure of the Liberta pram producers. Police began investigating the bankruptcy of Liberta, whose board of directors included Mr Svoboda and one of his former advisors, at the end of last year. Liberta went bankrupt in late 1997 amid allegations of asset-stripping. The company had reportedly been in severe financial difficulties for some time. Minister Svoboda is neither a parliamentary deputy nor a senator and therefore does not enjoy immunity from prosecution. Premier Milos Zeman hinted on Thursday that Mr Svoboda will be replaced in a forthcoming cabinet reshuffle. Mr Zeman told journalists that a public official suspected of having committed criminal offences should bear the consequences.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan arrives in Prague

The Secretary General of the United Nations Kofi Annan arrives in Prague on Friday for a two-day visit to the Czech Republic. Friday´s programme includes meetings with Premier Milos Zeman, Foreign Minister Jan Kavan, Chamber of Deputies chairman Vaclav Klaus and Senate chairwoman Libuse Benesova. On Saturday Mr Annan is due to meet President Vaclav Havel at his cottage in East Bohemia before returning to Prague for meetings with Czech representatives of UNICEF, the UNHCR and the UN Development Programme. This is Mr Annan´s first visit to the Czech Republic since his appointment in 1997.

Senate approves crucial state secrets bill

The upper house of the Czech parliament, the Senate, has approved new legislation on the protection of classified information, a crucial requirement for the country´s full compatibility with NATO. The legislation was hurried through the Czech parliament in order to speed up the process of vetting officials for handling state secrets. There had been speculation that Czech officials would not be able to work fully with their NATO counterparts because they had not received sufficient vetting to handle classified military data.

Chief of Staff to senior officers: Learn English or lose your job

The head of the Czech armed forces has told his staff to learn English fast - or face the sack. According to a report by the Reuters news agency, Chief of Staff Jiri Sedivy told a meeting of top army officers that they faced bonus cuts or even dismissal if they failed to learn English to enable them to hold meetings with NATO colleagues. General Sedivy has banned officers from using interpreters to make them learn quicker. The Czech Republic joined NATO along with Poland and Hungary in March, but its military is still struggling to convert itself from a large Soviet-era force into a leaner army capable of cooperating fully with NATO.

Experts still investigating cause of fatal MiG crash

Experts are still investigating the causes of last month´s collision between two MiG fighters, which caused the deaths of two experienced pilots. The commander in chief of the Czech Air Force Ladislav Klima told reporters that the investigation could last a further month. The aircraft collided and came down in woods in Central Bohemia as they were returning from a routine training mission. The Czech Air Force, which is largely made up of ageing Russian aircraft, has suffered a spate of fatal accidents in recent years.

Gregr released from hospital

The Czech Trade and Industry Minister Miroslav Gregr has been released from hospital after being admitted for what doctors said was regular treatment on Monday. The head of Prague´s Stresovice hospital said the seventy-year-old minister had not been treated for a serious illness and that the visit had been planned in advance. He declined to give any further details, saying Mr Gregr had requested privacy.


And finally a quick look at Friday´s weather. We´re expecting a mostly cloudy day here in the Czech Republic with some sunny periods as well as scattered showers in places. Daytime temperatures will reach a maximum of 22 degrees Celsius, falling to around 12 degrees at night.

And that´s the end of the news.