News Friday, MARCH 10th, 2000

Those were the headlines and now the news in more detail:

Floods in north-eastern Bohemia

The inhabitants of many Czech towns and villages in north eastern Bohemia have had to be evacuated overnight after rivers burst their banks flooding the basements and ground floors of their homes. Many roads and fields are reported to be underwater cutting off towns and villages from the outside world. In some areas the situation was made worse by gale force winds, complicating rescue work. Two people are reported to have died – an elderly woman drowned trying to get to safety, a cyclist was killed by a falling tree. A state of emergency remains in force, as more rain is expected in the coming 24 hours.

Moral support for Tibet

Around 100 Czech towns are flying the Tibetan flag today as a show of moral support and in memory of the 1959 Tibetan Uprising against Chinese rule. The Czech branch of Amnesty International is to hold a protest demonstration outside the Chinese embassy in Prague at which it wants to hand over to Chinese officials a petition calling for the release of two Tibetan monks jailed by the Chinese authorities just over a year ago. One of those monks is reported to be just 16 years old and has reportedly been placed in a prison house for adults.

Czechs mark NATO anniversary

A ceremony is to be held at Prague Castle today to mark the upcoming first anniversary of the Czech Republic's admission to NATO. The keynote speech is to be presented by President Vaclav Havel who is commander in chief of the country's armed forces. The Czech Republic was admitted to NATO on March 12th, 1999 together with Poland and Germany.

PM says foreigners' law must be changed

Prime Minister Milos Zeman has criticized the recently enacted foreigners' law , telling a meeting of the American Chamber of Commerce in Prague that it was flawed and would have to be changed. "The law has had undesirable and unexpected consequences and side effects," Zeman said, " it needs changing and we will effect change". He did not elaborate on what changes he had in mind. The law has been widely criticized by foreign investors and long-term foreign residents , especially for forcing them to renew their work permits outside the country.

Spy allegations hit Czech Republic

Czech officials have responded cautiously to allegations that the Czech Republic might be responsible for an alleged leak of vital military information to the Serbs during NATO's 1999 bombing campaign. British member of Parliament Menzies Campbell of the Liberal Democrats told the AFP news agency he believed Czech spies might have been involved in the alleged leak of classified information, hinting at old ties with Russia. Meanwhile, NATO officials have denied that a leak of "air-tasking orders" ever took place , stressing that there was no evidence NATO's air operations had been compromised. The allegations of a leak, which allegedly damaged NATO interests and placed the whole operation at risk, appeared in Thursday's edition of the Guardian and are to re- appear in a BBC documentary to be aired on Sunday.

Parliament clears way for local elections

Parliament has approved a law on elections to local government posts. The transition from regional administration to local government should ensure that individual regions have a much greater say in local planning and distribution of funds. Assuming the law does not run into difficulties in the Senate, the first elections to local government posts could be held this autumn.

Government moves to cut red-tape

The Czech government has moved to reduce the amount of red tape and simplify various administrative procedures in the public sector. The draft law on civil service, which the Cabinet approved unanimously, aims to de-politicize this sphere, bring greater transparency into the work of various administration bureaus and strictly define the competences of individual departments. While it aims to give civil servants better working conditions the proposed law has been tailored to prevent a future increase of administrative staff. It is to be handed over to Parliament by the end of June.

Privatization schedule

Prime Minister Zeman has said revealed something of the government's privatization plans. According to the Cabinet's time-frame the process of privatizing Czech banks will be concluded by the end of this year, and is to be followed by a privatization of telecommunications , to be launched mid-2000, and engineering enterprises. The privatization of the energy sector is expected to begin next year and should last from two to three years.

Danish Foreign Minister in Prague

The visiting Danish foreign minister Niels Petersen on Thursday met with Prime Minister Zeman to discuss the state of bilateral relations and European integration. The two sides agreed on the need to broaden ties and the Czech Prime Minister urged Denmark to expand its business activities in the Czech Republic, citing recently approved tax-cuts for foreign investors. In discussing EU matters the Danish foreign minister expressed full support for the Union's policy with regard to Austria.

Finally a look at the weather:

Friday should be another wet and windy day in the Czech Republic with temps between 5 and 9 degs C. Nighttime lows should not drop below freezing point.