News Friday, MAY 01th, 1998

The Czech Senate gives its final approval to this country's joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

The Czech Republic says it will soon lift import quotas on EU apples.

And President Vaclav Havel is reported doing fine more than two weeks after emergency surgery in Austria.

These are the top stories from Prague, I am Libor Kubik, now the news in more detail.


The Czech Senate -- the upper house of parliament -- gave its final approval on Thursday to this country's joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. The foreign and defence ministries hailed the move in a special statement.

Senators voted 64 to three in favour of joining the defence alliance, empowering the government to sign NATO's founding Washington Treaty. The three votes against were by one Social Democrat and two Communists. Twelve Senators were not present during the voting.

The lower house approved membership two weeks ago. The Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary have been invited to join NATO next year. All 16 NATO members and the applicants' own parliaments must first approve the expansion of the alliance to include former members of the Soviet-led Warsaw pact.

All mainstream parliamentary parties in the Czech Republic, which faces a general election in June, favour NATO membership. Only the Communists and the far-right Republicans oppose joining.

Opinion polls show that Czechs remain divided on the country's quest to join NATO. Latest polls found that only about half of those questioned said they advocated Prague's NATO membership.


Czech Agriculture Minister Josef Lux said on Thursday that the government was prepared to lift import quotas on EU apples by the end of June.

He was speaking at a seminar on EU expansion and single farm policy in Prague.

Minister Lux and EU Farm Policy Commissioner Franz Fischler said in a joint statement that, in return, Czech fruit and vegetable producers would receive aid to help improve their marketing techniques.

The Czech Republic imposed import quotas on apples from EU countries earlier this year. The European Union condemned the move as protectionist and retaliated by imposing its own quotas on Czech pork, fruit juices and poultry.


Czech President Vaclav Havel was reported doing fine more than two weeks after emergency surgery in Austria.

Doctors at the Innsbruck University Clinic, where Havel has been hospitalised and operated on three times, said on Thursday Havel's laboratory tests were good and the patient was gradually restoring his mobility. Havel had made his first unassisted steps and was spending part of the day in a specially constructed chair.

His doctors say a decision on when he will be transferred back home will be announced on Friday.

The 61-year-old Czech president had part of his large intestine removed in and emergency operation while on holiday in the Tyrolean Alps.


The Czech Office for Documentation and Investigation of Crimes of Communism on Thursday brought charges against a former state secret police officer, who is said to have tortured political prisoners in the early 1950s, after the communist coup in Czechoslovakia.

The man, identified only as Evzen S., was accused on Thursday of abusing his official powers.

The officer is said to have caused grievous bodily harm to at least five inmates of the Bory Prison near Plzen in the period from March to September 1950. Two of his victims are still alive and will be called to testify, the office said.


The prime minister of the German state of Saxony, Kurt Biedenkopf, said in Prague on Thursday that his country favours the European Union's expansion to include the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland.

In a meeting with Czech lower house speaker Milos Zeman, the Saxon premier also attached great significance to the three countries joining NATO.

Mr Biedenkopf advocated closer economic, scientific and cultural cooperation within the Central European region.


Greece expressed interest on Thursday in obtaining Czech technologies for upgrading its armed forces.

Greek Defence Minister Akis Tsochadzopoulos told a Czech parliamentary delegation visiting Athens that his country planned to acquire a fleet of Czech-built L 159 light attack aircraft, developed by Aero Vodochody.


Czech Industry and Trade Minister Karel Kuehnl disclosed on Thursday that the completion of the controversial Temelin nuclear power plant in South Bohemia will cost nearly 99,000 million Czech crowns -- or about three billion US dollars.

Minister Kuehnl told a press conference in Prague that the plant will become operational in May 2000 at the earliest.

The Temelin plant has been the focus of environmentalist protests in and outside the Czech Republic. But the government maintains its completion -- now long overdue -- will enable phasing out coal-fired electric power plants in North Bohemia -- a notorious source of air pollution.


Prague city fathers said on Thursday the city will receive a five-year loan for vital transport investments. The 3.5 billion-crown loan is being provided by the Dutch bank ING Barings.

Townhall officials said the loan will be used to finance completion of Line B of the Prague Metro, among other projects.

Prague officials called for the resignation of Finance Minister Ivan Pilip, who they accuse of stealing millions of crowns from Prague citizens by refusing to approve the planned emission of nine billion crown's worth of municipal bonds.


Tennis -- and top seed Czech Petr Korda on Thursday flunked his sixth attempt to become the world's number one by succumbing to his co-patriot Slava Dosedel 6-3 6-2 in the second round of the Czech Open men's tournament in Prague.

Korda, the winner of this year's Australian Open, needed a Prague win very badly in order to unseat the current number one, Pete Sampras.


Finally, a look at the weather -- Friday will be a wet day here in the Czech Republic, with scattered rain showers and thunderstorms. Afternoon highs between 18 and 22 degrees Celsius, and around 14 degrees at the altitude of 1000 metres.

An outlook for Saturday and Sunday -- a low-pressure area will move across eastern Germany to the northeast and that will partly influence the weather here. We expect cloudy skies on both days, again with scattered showers and thunderstorms. Nighttime lows between eight and 12 Celsius, afternoon temperatures from 17 to 21 degrees.

And that's the end of the news.