News Friday, NOVEMBER 06th, 1998

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These are the top Czech news stories this hour. Now the news, read by Libor Kubik.

HAVEL-AWARDS-SCREENING

Czech President Vaclav Havel will in future ask the nation's security services to screen all nominees for top state awards.

The announcement came on Thursday in the wake of a scandal shrouding last week's National Day awards ceremony in which Havel is said to have honoured several people who in the past were associated with either the Communist secret police or the Nazi occupation authorities during World War Two.

Chief among them is Vienna's former Mayor Helmut Zilk, who is said to have collaborated with the Communist StB security police in the 1960s.

Havel said in a meeting with one-time Interior Minister Jan Ruml on Thursday that he was now going to review his earlier decision not to vet people he himself wanted to get top state awards.

HAVEL-ZILK

Documents pertaining to the Helmut Zilk affair were presented to President Havel on Thursday by Czech Interior Minister Vaclav Grulich.

But the former mayor of Vienna, who was withdrawn from the list of hight state award recipients late last month, will not be able to see the documents because Czech laws bar non- nationals from this opportunity.

But Havel insists that his invitation for Zilk to visit him in Prague is still relevant. Mr Zilk said on Thursday he was going to visit Havel as soon as possible, to clear his name.

CZECH-EU-ASSESSMENT

Czech Finance Minister Ivo Svoboda said on Thursday that the largely unfavourable EU assessment of the Czech Republic reflected the actual situation,

The EU has been critical in its annual report on the progress of the Union's prospective members especially of the sorry state of the Czech legislative preparations for membership.

But as Minister Svoboda said, the EU report, released on Thursday, was compiled on the basis of input data gathered in the period ending in mid-1998, when the previous Czech administrations were still quite negligent about the need to coach the country towards EU membership.

He said the incumbent Social Democrat government took these preparations as one of its top priorities.

CZECH-ECONOMY-RATING

The international agency Standard & Poor's has lowered its rating of the Czech Republic's credit reliability from grade A to A-minus.

The agency cited slow pace of restructuring in the banking sector and the growing number of bad loans.

The Czech crown reacted to the news on Thursday evening by losing 10 hellers of its value.

CZECH-SOCDEM-OPPOSITION

The ruling Czech Social Democrats say they have a scenario ready in case the main opposition ODS abrogates a pact which enabled them to form a minority government after last June's parliamentary elections.

But Social Democrat Prime Minister Milos Zeman told Czech Radio on Thursday that in contrast to the ODS, the former coalition Christian Democrats had picked up the courage to admit their share of responsibility for the mistakes of the past and to make amends.

Without naming the Christian Democrats, Premier Zeman said he did not rule out the possibility of forming a coalition with some other political party.

CZECH-BUDGET-CHRISTIAN

The opposition Czech Christian Democrats did not rule out on Thursday that they will support a second version of the draft state budget tabled by the Social Democratic government.

The party's acting chairman Jan Kasal said the Christian Democrats would carefully study the draft, which the cabinet passed on Wednesday.

The second amended draft envisages a 31 billion crown deficit. This has already been rejected by the main opposition Civic Democrats and some other right-of-centre parties.

CZECH-IRAN-RADIO

Iran has predicted that other Islamic countries may follow Tehran's example in reviewing their economic ties with Prague now that the U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe has launched shortwave broadcasts from Czech soil to Iran and Iraq.

Iran's ambassador Sayed Jafar Hashemi told PRAVO daily that his country enjoys great authority in the Muslim world. But he did not specify which other countries might emulate Iran, which earlier this week decided to scale down economic and trade relations with the Czech Republic.

Ambassador Hashemi spoke shortly before leaving for Tehran to where he was recalled for consultations earlier this week.

CZECH-US-ENVOY

America's new ambassador to the Czech Republic, John Shattuck, will be sworn in at a ceremony in Washington on Monday.

The U.S. State Department said on Thursday that the ceremony will be attended by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who is of Czech origin.

Ambassador Shattuck has been her top aide on the issues of democracy, human rights and labour affairs. He is succeeding in the Prague post Ambassador Jenonne Walker, who formally ended her mission last month.

CZECH-FASCIST-POSTERS

Posters with fascist symbols have appeared in public places in the area around Ceske Budejovice in southern Bohemia.

Police said on Thursday that posters with swastikas, other Nazi symbols and a text describing ex-premier Vaclav Klaus's ODS party as the executioners of the Czech nation, had been found on traffic signs and buildings in the village of Rimov.

The police said they were investigating a blatant case of aiding an abetting a movement against civic rights and liberties. The police said the culprits could be facing up to five years in jail.

CZECH-WEATHER

Now the weather.

On Friday, we will be under the influence of a small cold front, which will bring us lots of humidity in the valleys and some snow showers in the mountains. Daytime temperatures between five and nine degrees Celsius.

The weekend's weather -- a high pressure area is always a welcome sign. There will not be many changes as regards current autumn temperatures -- still between six and 10 Celsius, but there should be less rain.

And now quickly about the events that we expect will take place in the Czech Republic today:

The government will meet at an extra session tonight with only one point on its agenda -- the new draft state budget for next year. There might even be a press conference one hour after midnight for those who want it.

The Lord Mayor of Prague, Jan Koukal, will meet a delegation from the Paris Municipal Council, led by deputy mayor Patrick Olivier Picourt.

Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan will confer in Prague with the visiting US Under Secretary of Defence, Franklin Kramer.

And on the more practical side, the Koryna Korycany furniture factory will present its new kitchen design for handicapped users at the MEFA health technologies fair in Brno.

And that's the end of the news