News Friday, MARCH 03th, 2000

Hello and a very warm welcome to the programme. First we start with a bulletin of news read by Pauline Newman

You are tuned to radio Prague. Those were the headlines, now a look at the news in full:

Budget debate possible on Friday

The Czech Parliament continues its session on Friday with the approval of a law on telecommunications and bankruptcy. There is speculation that later in the day, if enough time is left, the final reading of the government’s draft budget will take place. Although most MP’s would like to vote on the budget next week, Chairman of the Parliamentary Budget Committee Vlastimil Tlusty confirmed in a recent interview that it may take place late on Friday afternoon.

Zeman to introduce ministerial changes gradually

According to highly placed Social Democrat officials, Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman intends to reconstruct the government gradually. Zeman has agreed with the opposition Civic democrats to make the ministerial changes, if they support his budget. Sources within the Social democrat party, said on Thursday, Minister without Portfolio Jaroslav Basta would be first to go. A private Czech television channel fuelled further speculation on Thursday evening, with reports that Milos Zeman has summoned Interior Minister Vaclav Grulich for talks. Grulich is the fourth minister expected to be dismissed. They are to meet once the budget has been approved.

Although Zeman has said that talks are to focus mainly on work at the Interior Ministry, observers say the Prime Minister is likely to start making the first moves towards the cabinet reshuffle.

Kavan in Berlin

Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan and his German counterpart Joschka Fischer, said on Thursday that bilateral ties between the two countries have greatly improved. Speaking in Berlin, Kavan described relations with Germany as "very friendly" while Fischer said it has become a relationship between friends. Kavan said all problems had been successfully resolved. Regarding the expulsion of German speakers from Czechoslovakia after 1945, he said there was no need for talks, even if the new Austrian government was demanding compensation. He told German reporters that Czechs had met their financial obligations to Austria over the course of recent decades.

As far as the Czech Republic's accession to the European Union is concerned, Fischer said Germany acknowledged its responsibility to candidate countries. He said Germany would ensure there were no unnecessary delays and that that expansion of the European Union would place at the earliest possible date. Finally both ministers expressed hopes for a rapid solution to the issue of compensation for slave labourers under the Nazi regime.

Conference pays tribute to Masaryk

An international conference continues on Friday in Prague assessing the political legacy of Czechoslovakia's founding President Tomas Garrigue Masaryk. On Thursday, Prime Minister Milos Zeman made a speech in which he focused on Masaryk as a statesman who worked at building confidence in a democratic society. Speaker of the Czech Parliament Vaclav Klaus made a controversial speech in which he criticized what he called „the Masaryk myth“ which is still present in Czech society today.

Scholars and historians examining the life and work of Masaryk on Thursday, pronounced him to be a highly educated man of integrity. One historian pointed out that Masaryk always warned against the dangers of nationalism and racism and worked at creating a lasting peace between Czechs and their German neighbours. Others hailed Masaryk as a universal teacher, whose ideas are still relevant in the 21st century.

Social Democrats reject move for commission

The ruling Czech Social Democrat party on Thursday blocked a debate in Parliament by opposition MP's calling for the creation of a Commission to look into the export of Czech components to an Iranian nuclear power plant. The Social Democrats took advantage of Czech Parliamentary legislation which stipulates that 20 MP's may unanimously reject any additions to the program of the Czech Parliament. A senior member of the Social Democrats justified the move, saying Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman would look into the issue in the near future. This comes as the Czech government makes emergency moves to pass a law banning Czech exports to the power plant after America and other NATO states threatened sanctions should the trade go ahead.

Faith in Czech government slumps

The results of an opinion poll released on Thursday show that few Czechs see the government in a positive light. A mere 7% of people believe the minority Social Democrat government is capable of resolving important problems and only 1% said they had faith in the government. Researchers warned that the government would appear to be losing public support, since last month, 24% of those asked, said they strongly believed in the Czech leadership. People from all sections of Czech society gave their opinions while only those who vote Social Democrat expressed any support for the government at all.

Czech Reaction to latest in Pinochet affair

Czech reactions to the decision of the British government not to extradite former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet to Spain have been cautious. Czech shadow Foreign Minister Jan Zahradil welcomed the news on Thursday, saying it has brought to an end to months of legal wrangling. Chairman of the Parliament's Foreign Committee Lubomir Zaoralek said the case has outlined the fact that violence is unacceptable no matter what the political aim may be. One Christian Democrat MP said the affair had been blown out of proportion, since there have been and are many other similar dictators in the world today. British Home Secretary Jack Straw announced on Thursday that Britain will not extradite the former Chilean ruler for trial abroad. Medical grounds were cited for the decision. Pinochet left London for Chile on Thursday afternoon.

We end as usual with a brief look at the weather:

Skies on Friday will be cloudy and overcast with temperatures ranging from 5 to 8 degrees Celsius. We are expecting some rain though and more snow in the mountains. It will be colder overnight, however, as temperatures drop to around zero.

And that's the news.