News Friday, MAY 12th, 2000

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

Agriculture minister says drought could be disastrous for the economy

The Czech agriculture minister Jan Fencl has said that the continuing heat wave and drought could have disastrous consequences for the economy comparable to the 1998 floods. Already farmers are predicting very poor harvests and if the forecasts of another dry month should prove true then a great many of them will face bankruptcy, Fencl said. Even now it is clear that the prices of many agrarian products will soar, since government reserves for such a crisis would not be enough to tide over the entire agricultural sector.

Basta hot candidate for ambassadorial post in Russia

The former minister without portfolio Jaroslav Basta has become the hot candidate for the post of Czech ambassador to Russia. The CTK news agency said the information had been confirmed by several inside sources. The foreign ministry's press spokesman has refused to confirm it at this stage , merely stating that the foreign minister had reached a definite decision and a statement would be made available as soon as the respective candidate had the Cabinet's approval.

Prague Spring Music Festival opens tonight

The 55th annual Prague Spring Music Festival is due to open in the Czech capital this evening. It is the oldest and most lavish music festival in Czech history and attracts music lovers from around the world. Over the next three weeks they will be able to take their choice from over 70 concerts performed by top Czech and international ensembles. Listeners in the Czech Republic who have not as yet bought tickets can at least savor the opening concert – traditionally Bedrich Smetana's cycle of symphonic poems My Country – which is aired live on Czech television.

EU praises Czech Republic's progress

EU envoy Ralf Dreyer has praised the Czech Republic for keeping up a steady pace of reform. He told the CTK news agency that the country had made up for lost time and that if it maintained the set pace it would be among the first states to join the European Union.

The Czech Republic has just signed an agreement on labour policy with the EU. It is the first of the candidate states to have passed this hurdle. The EU's commissioner for Labour and Social Affairs Anna Diamantopulus said at a press briefing after the signing ceremony here in Prague that she was satisfied with the present pace of social reform and that the country had been following the Unions recommendations. She pointed out however that the outdated pensions' system presented a serious future problem and would have to be revised as soon as possible. Mrs. Diamantopulus is now attending a two day conference on EU labour and social policy in Prague.

President Havel winds up state visit to Germany

On the final day of his state visit to Germany President Havel is to meet with the German foreign minister Joschka Fisher and visit the Bavarian city of Regensburg. Bilateral relations and European integration have topped the agenda of the Czech President's four day visit and he has received repeated assurances that Germany would support the Czech Republic's early accession to the European Union.

On Thursday, the Presidential couple visited Berlin's 18th century Brandenburg Gate – the city's historic symbol of division and reunification- and later toured the former Nazi concentration camp at Sachsenhausen, a few km north of Berlin, where the President unveiled a memorial to 18 Czech students who were murdered at the camp after taking part in an anti-Nazi protest following the invasion of their homeland in 1939.

FBI chief holds talks in Prague

The head of the FBI Louis Freeh has met with Czech government officials in Prague to discuss ways of fighting organized crime. The FBI is to open a small office in the Czech capital within two months' time. Although the locally-based FBI officers will not have executive powers on Czech territory they will cooperate closely with Czech police in fighting organized crime on the Continent and they will also be prepared to provide training. According to inside sources a topic high on the agenda of the FBI chief's talks in Prague was security at the upcoming September session of the IMF and World Bank to be held in the Czech capital.

International Book Fair underway

The 6th annual International Book Fair has opened in Prague, the biggest sales exhibition of its kind in the country. It serves to promote both Czech and foreign authors. 615 publishers from 21 countries are taking part and the four-day Event held on Prague's Vystaviste grounds, includes public readings, seminars and debates as well as autograph sessions.

Gays take to the streets

Gays and lesbians are holding their annual International Rainbow Festival in Karlovy Vary . The two-day festival established in 1998 is intended to bring more gays and lesbians out of the closet, 10 years after the revolution which ended four decades of silence on the issue of homosexuality. A gay parade will wind its way through the streets of Karlovy Vary on Saturday and the Festival will end with a gala-concert that same evening.

Finally a look at the weather:

Friday should be another very warm day with temps between 22 and 26 degs C.