News Friday, MARCH 20th, 1998

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Radio Prague E-news Date: 20.3.1998 Written/read by: David Vaughan

Hello and welcome to Radio Prague. I'm David Vaughan, and I'll start with a bulletin of Czech news.

SocDem Investigation Begins

A former prominent figure in the opposition Social Democrats has vigorously denied claims that he acknowledged signing a highly controversial document three years ago, that would have offered the party a loan in return for direct political influence. Former deputy party leader, Karel Machovec said that a document, outlining conditions for a loan from a group of Czech-Swiss businessmen and bearing his and party leader Milos Zeman's signatures is a forgery. He also denied claims that he had suggested otherwise earlier this week. Mr Zeman has also strongly denied signing any deal, and has make no secret of his anger at Mr Machovec for even hinting that the contents of the document could have been genuine. Despite Mr Machovec's latest denials Mr Zeman has called for him not to be selected to stand as a candidate in the forthcoming general election. On the request of the Social Democrats themselves, the Czech intelligence service has begun an investigation into the affair.

EU Pressure

The Czech Republic's apple war with the European Union continues, with EU representatives sustaining pressure on the country to lift quotas on apple imports from the Union. They have made it clear that they have no intention of lifting counter-measures, approved by all fifteen EU members, until the Czech government reverses its decision. A spokesman for the EU Commissioner for Agriculture, Franz Fischler, said that the EU's counter-measures, affecting imports of Czech pork, poultry and fruit juice, were moderate in comparison with the impact of Czech apple quotas. The Czech agriculture minister, Josef Lux, has stood firm, accusing the EU of acting unilaterally. He said that the Czech government does not plan to change its mind.

New Chief of Staff

The Czech Republic's armed forces are to have a new chief of staff from the first of May. Jiri Sedivy, who is currently in command of ground forces, will take over from Jiri Nekvasil, who is to go on to head the military section of the Czech Republic's NATO mission in Brussels. General Sedivy said that his main priority will be to continue reforms to Czech armed forces, to make them fully compatible with NATO standards. He added that particular stress needs to be put changing attitudes within the army and that greater stress needs to be put on education.

Future of Hospital

The future of the local hospital in the town of Bruntal, which is scheduled for closure despite protests from the local community, is to be reassessed today. The committee appointed to decide on hospital closures is to hold a fresh meeting after local representatives accused it of bias. The health ministry has said that if the committee does revise its initial decision, it will consider keeping the hospital open. The hospital's director, Alois Matusu, has ended a hunger strike in protest against the planned closure. On Friday the health minister, Zuzana Roithova, is to meet the head of the local authority in Bruntal, which is also strongly opposed to the closure.

Media Committee on Radio Prague

The Czech parliament's media committee has recommended the shelving of planned reductions to our output here at Radio Prague. Due to budget cuts the Foreign Ministry, which finances the station, had planned to discontinue shortwave broadcasts in German, French and Spanish, but the committee has called for the decision to be put off at least until the end of this year. It has also requested the ministry to work up a strategy for the future of the station by the end of April. Radio Prague has been broadcasting on shortwave since 1936.

Skoda Profits

The car manufacture Skoda has announced its profits for 1997. After tax profits amounted to over a billion Czech crowns - around thirty million US dollars, a dramatic increase on figures for 1996. Exports of Skoda cars made up for nearly eight percent of total Czech exports, and the number of cars produced was up by over a third with sales at just under fifteen percent higher. The figures were announced on Thursday by the chairman of Skoda, in which Volkswagen owns a majority stake, Vratislav Kulhanek. Skoda has also confirmed that it plans to increase production to five hundred thousand vehicles annually by the end of the century.

Privatisation

The Czech government has announced that it plans to decide on the privatisation of sixteen regional electricity and gas companies by the end of June. The government spokesman, Vladimir Mlynar, said that its preferred option is to put the companies out to public tender. He added that prior to any decision, the government will present parliament with a precise outline of how the privatisation will be carried out.

Family Law Returned

The Czech Senate has failed to approve a controversial bill, that would make it harder for children to be adopted. The bill would make it impossible for children to be adopted without consultation with their parents up to six months after birth. However the Senate has recommended that parliament amend the bill, reducing this period to only two months. Supporters of the amendment argue that the longer wait for adoption would make it harder for children to adapt to their new families, and would act in the interests of the parents at the expense of the child. The Senate recommended the amendment by an overwhelming majority.

Weather

And finally a quick look at the weather....

We can expect no major change in the weather over the next few days with continued snow and sleet showers and temperatures no higher than 5 degrees Celsius. Over the weekend it may get even colder, with temperatures only just creeping above freezing. But with this late wintry weather, skiing conditions in most of the Czech mountains are good.

And that's the end of the news.