News Friday, NOVEMBER 05th, 1999

Hello and a very warm welcome to the programme. I'm Dita Asiedu, first let's start with a look at the main headlines of the day:

You are tuned to Radio Prague. Those were the headlines, now let's take a look at the news in full:

David / Health Insurance

Czech Premier Milos Zeman said on Thursday evening that the political future of Health Minister Ivan David is in the hands of Parliament. Following a meeting of the social Democrat party leadership, he said that Parliament will discuss the matter next Tuesday, in connection with an amendment to the law on health insurance. The existing law on health insurance is only valid until the end of this year. If it is not renewed, health insurance will be free and as experts have pointed out, with no-one to pay for this service, the system would quickly collapse from lack of funding. Right wing parliamentary parties have been calling for David's resignation. They say that if they will only support the amendment to the law on health insurance if David leaves office. Health Minister Ivan David in the meantime, told journalists on Thursday, that he is fairly sure his job is safe. He was speaking after talks with party boss Milos Zeman. David said the meeting had focused on legal aspects of Czech health insurance. He has been under considerable pressure to resign after a row with a Prague hospital and his suggestion that the largest Czech health insurance company should be placed under forced administration.

Democratic Parties / Meeting

The opposition Christian Democratic party said late on Thursday evening, that it will attend a meeting on Wednesday, of all democratic parties called by Vaclav Klaus, head of the Civic Democratic party. A Christian Democrat spokeswoman said that after much hesitation and uncertainty, the party will attend because it wants to present its views on how to resolve the current political stalemate. Vaclav Klaus has for the last four weeks been trying to convince all democratic parties in Parliament that a non-communist grand coalition is the way out of the country's political problems. Observers say that this decision by the Christian democrats should convince the other hesitant opposition party, the Freedom Union that it should also attend the talks.

Ombudsman / Opposition

In spite of much opposition from the right wing Civic democrats and the Freedom Union party, the Prague Parliament on Thursday, approved the introduction of an Ombudsman to the Czech Republic. This is an independent official who is appointed to investigate complaints against the administration. Over a hundred MP's voted for the motion, while 70 were against. The proposal still needs to be approved by the Senate and signed by President Havel. The Civic democratic party which was not in favour of the proposal has repeatedly said that an Ombudsman is unnecessary and expensive. The European Union and the Council of Europe, however, have repeatedly criticised the absence of an Ombudsman in the Czech republic. The Ombudsman with a team of 40 people, would in theory be able to intervene in the running of ministries, regional and financial organisations as well as in the health care sector, the prison system and the army. If the proposal is approved at the highest level, the Czech President will name four candidates for the post and the chosen candidate will remain in office for six years.

Romanies / Verheugen

Romanies have been camping out in the northern town of Usti nad Labem in protest against the Maticni street wall. They say they will stay there as long as they have to in order to force the government to have a wall in the street, which separates Romanies from their neighbours removed. Dozens of Romanies arrived on Thursday night with sleeping bags and food supplies. Local Romanies said they would look after them. This is the latest episode in an affair which has seen the Czech Republic come under much domestic and international criticism for allowing the construction of the wall to go ahead. On Thursday, Gunter Verheugen, member of the European Commission, again indirectly criticised the Maticni Street wall. In a speech marking the 10th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall, Verheugen said in Brussels, that there should be no more walls in Europe, not even in towns, separating one street from another. He reminded all present that discrimination against Romanies in Eastern Europe is a problem being constantly encountered by the European Union in its expansion process. This is his second attack on the wall, the first came on the 15th October, when he expressed his support for the Prague government's negative stance on the issue. He said then that he hoped the wall would be removed as soon as possible.

Visegrad / Slovakia

The Defence Ministers of Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary at a meeting with their Slovak counterpart have declared their readiness to assist Slovakia in its efforts to join NATO. On Thursday, Czech Defence Minister Vladimir Vetchy called this a historical step, since his this is the first time his Slovak counterpart Pavol Kanis, has taken part in the so called Visegrad meetings. The Polish Defence Minister later told journalists that the two day talks which had taken place in south eastern Poland, had also focused on security on the region, defence co-operation, and the process of integration into the Euro-Atlantic military structures. These meetings which are held every six months, are due to take place, next time round in Budapest.

Letter bomb / Machata

An MP who quitted her post in the Freedom Union party last week is under special protection. Marie Machata, was supplied with bodyguards by Interior Minister Vaclav Grulich, after she received a letter bomb on Wednesday. Machata told journalists that although she is shaken, she is certain the letter is in no way connected with her departure from the party.

Referendum / EU

The Czech Parliament on Thursday postponed a proposal calling for a referendum on the Czech Republic's entry to the European Union. This comes after Freedom Union member Pavel Svoboda demanded that the proposal be returned for re-drafting. He said the matter needed to be discussed in more detail. Observers on Thursday said they were not surprised by the move, since many parties in parliament have already said that they are not sure whether or not the referendum should go ahead.

Poll / EU membership

A Reuters opinion poll shows that in the race to join the European Union, Hungary leads, and while Poland is struggling to keep up, the Czech Republic needs to overcome political deadlock in Prague. 56 European Union observers and experts throughout Europe, all agreed that none of the post-communist countries will join the European Union before 2004 at the earliest. The consensus as far as Prague was concerned is that the Czech Republic is facing basic economic problems. An expert at the Budapest Bank, said that Czechs need to implement some painful measures likely to push up unemployment and delay European Union accession. He said the Union would want to wait until these reforms are completed.

And we end as usual with a brief look at the weather: It's set to get colder over the next few days. Friday will see the possibility of sleet and rain in many parts of the country, with plenty of fog in the morning. Daytime temperatures will range from 7 to 10 degrees Celsius, dropping overnight to -2.