News Friday, JUNE 19th, 1998

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Radio Prague E-News date: June 19, 1998, 0900 UTC written/read by: Libor Kubik

These are the main Czech stories this hour. I am Libor Kubik and here's the news in more detail.

CZECH-ELECTION

People in the Czech Republic begin voting on Friday in a general election, with 13 parties on the ballot. Observers say the election is likely to bring a shift to the left but not an end to months of political uncertainty.

The polling stations throughout the country open at 2 p.m. and close at noon local time on Saturday, by which time the first exit polls should be made available. Radio Prague will broadcast special election updates on Saturday. Official results may be available in the mid-morning hours of Sunday.

The opposition centre-left Social Democrats, who have never been part of a Czech government, led in final opinion polls, ahead of the centre-right ODS party of former prime minister Vaclav Klaus.

The Social Democrats are likely to form the core of the next government after the two-day election but polls show they will be far short of a majority and will need to rely on fractious smaller parties to form a coalition.

Analysts say coalition talks, in which President Vaclav Havel will play a vital role, could take up to two months.

Leaders of all the mainstream parties expressed the hope on Thursday that Havel will respect the outcome of the election and ask the winner to form the next cabinet.

CZECH-SOCDEM

Social Democrat leader Milos Zeman said on Thursday he was ready to accept an invitation to form a new government, pending election results.

He was reacting to President Vaclav Havel's letter to ODS chairman Vaclav Klaus, whose content, leaked to the press over the past few hours, would seem to suggest that Zeman feels too tired and exhausted to be prime minister.

Zeman said that the letter, ostensibly written three months ago, may be a part of a pre-election scheme.

President Havel expressed regret over the leak of the contents of his letter to Klaus.

CZECH-ARMY-DISCIPLINE

Czech Defence Minister Michal Lobkowicz on Thursday ordered top army officers to carry out an analysis which would help boost security and discipline in the Czech armed forces.

Lobkowicz specifically mentioned an accident last week in which two Czech air force fighter planes collided in mid-air over the southern Bohemian city of Ceske Budejovice.

On board one of the two MiG-21s was a pilot and an unauthorised member of ground maintenance staff. Both men ejected into safety, as did the pilot of the other plane. The wreckage of one plane caused serious damage but no casualties in a residential block into which it crashed.

CZECH-ARMY-BOSNIA

Over 400 former members of the Czech Army unit serving with the SFOR mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina on Thursday received memory badges from Minister Lobkowicz.

Army Chief-of-Staff Jiri Sedivy said at a ceremony in Prague that many Czechs outperformed their Western colleagues on this peace-keeping mission.

CZECH-WAR-MEMORIAL

Ceremonies were held in Prague on Thursday to commemorate the death of Czechoslovak paratroopers involved in the assassination 56 years ago of Reinhard Heydrich, the World War Two Nazi governor of the Czech Lands.

Heydrich was killed in ambush as his motorcade was driving through a busy Prague traffic junction in May 1942. The Czechs who killed him had been trained in Britain.

The assassination of Heydrich triggered a wave of Nazi reprisals, executions, and led to the destruction of Lidice near Prague, whose male inhabitants were summarily executed.

CZECH-HOUSE-PRESIDENT-LOTTERIES

The lower house of the Czech parliament on Thursday overran by a majority of the vote President Havel's veto of a legislative amendment on lotteries. The house voted in favour of the original amendment, which prevents foreign firms from running lotteries in this country.

President Havel had unsuccessfully argued that the amendment may be discriminatory against non-Czech business firms.

CZECH-WEATHER

Finally, the weekend's weather forecast for the Czech Republic: The warm front will slowly disintegrate and give way to a high-pressure area advancing from the southwest. We expect occasional showers on Saturday, with early morning lows at around 10 Celsius, and daytime maxima between 21 and 25 degrees.

The temperatures will be a notch or two higher on Sunday.

And that's the end of the news.