News Friday, MARCH 13th, 1998

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Radio Prague E-news] Date: 13.3.1998] Written/read by: David Vaughan

Hello and welcome to Radio Prague. I'm David Vaughan, and I'll start with the headlines.

And now the news in more detail.

London Conference

The British Prime Minister Tony Blair has described yesterday's London conference between EU member countries and aspiring members, as a step towards European stability and prosperity. The summit was largely ceremonial, although ministers and prime ministers did discuss some important European issues. The 26-country conference warned Yugoslavia that it could not expect an improvement in relations with the EU unless it reversed its heavy-handed approach to Kosovo. Some doubt was cast on the aspirations of Central Europe's post-communist countries to join the Union, after Greece made clear it would block the whole process of EU expansion if negotiations with Cyprus were shelved. The Czech deputy foreign minister, Pavel Telicka - charged with leading Czech negotiations with the EU - said that the conference provided a useful talking shop to determine important issues on the path to EU membership. On the recommendation of German Chancellor Kohl the 26 countries represented agreed to set up a group of experts to study the problem of the illegal drugs trade. The group's findings will be discussed further at a future conference.

In some circles the role of the conference has been called into question due to the conspicuous absence of Turkey, which was intended to be one of its central players. Turkey decided to boycott the meeting, because it had not been invited to take part in EU accession talks.

NATO

The Foreign Affairs Committee of the Czech Parliament's lower house has voted overwhelming to recommend that Parliament vote in its forthcoming debate on NATO in favour of joining the Alliance. Only one of the fifteen committee members present voted against the recommendation. The Defence Minister Michal Lobkowicz has said that it is now almost certain that the Czech Republic will join the Alliance. He added that he welcomed the progress being made. On the recommendation of Civic Democratic Party members of parliament, the NATO debate is to be held next month.

The leader of the opposition Social Democrats, Milos Zeman, has said that although his party intends to vote with the government in favour of NATO membership, he would still prefer a nationwide referendum on the issue. Mr Zeman firmly denied rumours that his party had decided to vote with the government behind his back, while he was at a Social Democrat conference in London. He said that the Social Democrats' manifesto is clearly in favour of NATO membership, but that the party simply wants to follow the Hungarian model of holding a referendum to allow the people to decide. Mr Zeman added that depending on the outcome of the forthcoming general election, it is still very possible that a referendum will be held.

Czech Republic - Kosovo

The Defence Minister Michal Lobkowicz has said the Czech Republic would be very willing to participate, if the international community decided to intervene in the troubled Yugoslav province of Kosovo. He added that Czech participation should be more than just symbolic, and should follow the spirit of its contribution in Bosnia. But Mr Lobkowicz stressed that the Czech Republic's financial and organisational potential would be limited. President Havel has already spoken out strongly in favour of Czech participation. One member of the Czech parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, Jiri Payne, has accused the government of playing too passive a role in the Kosovo crisis, but he was accused by the deputy foreign minister, Otto Pick, of having an exaggerated view of the Czech Republic's importance in international diplomacy.

Mayor and Police

The Mayor of Prague, Jan Koukal, was summoned on Thursday morning for questioning by police looking into the much publicised financial affairs of the Civic Democratic Party. After an hour- long interview, he told journalists that questions focused exclusively on the issue of fictitious party sponsors, but he did not give further details. The party's former deputy chairman, Libor Novak, is currently facing charges of tax evasion, and it was the question of the party's finances that led to the fall of Vaclav Klaus's government last November.

Weather

And finally a quick look at the weather...

We can expect the colder weather to stay with us with snow showers and Friday's temperatures not getting above around two degrees Celsius. And we can expect this wintry weather to stay with us throughout the weekend. Good news at least for skiers.

And that's the end of the news.