News Friday, MAY 15th, 1998

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Radio Prague E-news Date: 15.5.1998 Written/read by: David Vaughan

Hello and welcome. I'm David Vaughan. First the headlines

Those are the headlines - and now the news in more detail.

Racism Condemnation

The decision by the city council of North Bohemian town of Usti nad Labem, to build a three-metre high wall around a housing estate lived in predominantly by members of the Romany minority, has come in for heavy criticism. The leader of one of the parties in the current government, the Freedom Union, Jan Ruml, said that such policy was unacceptible in a democratic society. He added that he will personally do all he can to stop the wall being built. Critics of the city council's decision claim that the wall will in effect create a Romany ghetto.

Klaus Party Finance Controversy

A senior Prague police officer has said a further police investigation should be launched into former Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus's Civic Democratic Party. He made the recommendation after the results were announced on Wednesday of an independent audit commissioned by Mr Klaus's party itself into its finances. The audit concluded that members of the party did break the law. Rumours about financial mismanagement in the Civic Democratic Party were what led to the fall of Mr Klaus's government six months ago.

Meanwhile the current deputy Prime Minister Josef Lux has said the audit into the Civic Democratic Party's finances has failed to clarify the most important question: whether or not the party holds a secret multi-million crown bank account abroad. He accused the party of withholding information from the auditors.

However, on Thursday some doubt was cast on the initial investigation into the Civic Democrats' finances. Justice Minister Vlasta Parkanova acknowledged that the Prague state prosecutor may not have been entirely unbiased when he conducted the investigation into the party's former financial manager, Libor Novak. Speaking in Parliament, she said that there will be personnel changes in the state prosecution service in the immediate future.

Another Scandal

With the dust still settling on one party scandal, a further scandal is looming, that threatens to draw in all the parties of the former coalition. The auditing firm Deloitte and Touche, which examined the Civic Democratic Party's finances, claims to have evidence that several parties in the former government accepted illegal sponsorship in connection with the privatisation of the Czech telecommunications giant Telecom.

Trade Unions

Czech trade union leaders, representing one-and-a-half million union members, begin an important assembly today to discuss their strategy for the coming years. They said that they want to focus on dialogue and negotiation rather than conflict, but added that they will expect greater understanding from the government, should the economic situation continue to get worse. The Chamber of Trade Unions is also to elect a new leadership.

Attacks to Be Investigated

The lower house of the Czech Parliament has approved a recommendation made by a far-right Republican Party member of parliament, calling on the Interior Minister Cyril Svoboda to investigate a growing number of physical assaults on prominent political figures. The minister has been requested to look into whether these attacks were prepared in advance. The Republicans' party leader Miroslav Sladek was slightly hurt during a party rally last weekend.

Alcohol Swoop

Czech customs officers have snatched a huge horde of almost pure alcohol, that had been smuggled into the Czech Republic from Austria. The spirit was transported in barrels marked as wine vinegar, and had the smugglers succeeded, they would have deprived customs-and-exise of over four-and-a-half million crowns. Police in South Moravia have arrested seven people in connection with the incident.

Marks and Spencer

The British department store chain, Marks and Spencer opens its second store in Prague today. The store is on a vast new out of town complex, just to the east of the city and covers an area of well over two thousand square metres. The firm has also announced that it plans to continue its expansion in the Czech Republic.

Russian Trade

After a meeting in Prague with the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, the Czech Foreign Minister, Jaroslav Sedivy, has said that there is enormous scope for increasing trade between the two countries, which has plummetted since the fall of communism. Druing his stay in Prague Mr Ivanov has also been discussing the possibility of President Havel visiting Moscow next Spring. A visit planned for later this year has had to be cancelled due to Mr Havel's health.

Literary Prize

The prestigious Tom Stoppard literary award, given every year by the Charter 77 foundation, has been won this year by a translator. The jury has chosen Jiri Pechar for the exceptional quality of his translations of French literature and the works of contemporary French philosophers. The Czech writer Eva Kanturkova, who chaired the jury, pointed in particular to his translation of Marcel Proust's classic "Remembrance of Things Past", and to his achievements as a poet in his own right.

Drought

Large areas of the Czech Republic are facing a serious drought. Farmers in Central Bohemia say that catastrophically low rainfall over the past few months could lead to a dramatic fall in crop yields. In March only four-and-a-half millimetres of rain fell, and this month has been even drier. If no rain falls over the next few days, there are fears that in some areas yields of arable crops could be down by twenty-five percent.

Weather

And the weather forecast for the next few days...

Friday should be a little cooler than of late with temperatures between 14 and 18 degrees Celsius, and we can expect cloudy skies and similar temperatures over the weekend. And especially in the eastern part of the country there may even be some showers.