News Friday, NOVEMBER 17th, 2000

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By Nick Carey

Verheugen dissatisfied with Czech reactions

The EU commissioner for enlargement, Gunter Verheugen, has reiterated his dissatisfaction with Czech reactions to the EU's annual progress report, which was released last week. The annual report evaluates progress made by candidate countries towards EU accession. Prior to the release of the report, Czech diplomats predicted that the report this year would put the Czechs back in first place for EU membership. But while the report praised the progress made by the Czech government in the past year, it placed the Czechs in the third group for possible membership. Reactions to the report in the Czech Republic have been predominantly negative. Gunter Verheugen said on Thursday that he found these reactions disappointing, as he believes the report is positive, especially the European Commission's evaluation of the Czech Republic's progress towards a market economy. Mr Verheugen also called on the member states of the EU to make sure they complete internal reforms at the EU summit in Nice in December, in order to be ready to take on some new members in 2002. If the summit fails, Mr. Verheugen warned, then some candidate states may lose interest in membership and look for alternative solutions. It is in the best interest of the EU, Mr. Verheugen said, not to fail at the Nice summit.

Zeman and Stefanopulos discuss EU and the Balkans

On the last day of his three-day state visit to the Czech Republic, the Greek President Konstantinos Stefanopulos has met for talks with Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman. The main issues discussed by the two me were EU accession and Balkan renewal. Mr. Stefanopulos repeated Greece's standpoint on Czech membership of the EU, saying that he would like to see the Czech Republic join the Union as soon as possible. Mr. Stefanopulos also said that Greece will not block Central European membership in the EU by favouring Cyprus' membership bid. The two politicians also repeated a statement made by the foreign ministers of the two countries that Kosovo should have full autonomy within Yuogslavia, but should not receive independence.

Senate candidate admits to membership in Communist elite unit

A candidate from a coalition of small centre-right parties who is running for a seat in the Senate, confesses to membership in a crack anti-demonstration regiment during the Communist regime. Petr Fejfar, who is running as a candidate for the Four Party Coalition in the second round of Senate elections in the East Bohemian district of Nachod, admitted at a press conference on Thursday that he was a member of the regiment for a year and half in the 1970s. The crack unit was designated for special crackdowns against anti-Communist demonstrations. Mr. Fejfar said that he was in the unit at the age of nineteen before becoming a dissident, and never took part in any operations against opponents of the Communist regime. According to the regional member of the Four Party Coalition, news of Mr. Fejfar's membership in the unit was leaked by associates of his second round opponent, a member of the largest opposition party, the centre-right Civic Democratic Party. The Civic Democrats have denied this claim.

Czech ambassador's alleged comments strain relations with Bulgaria

Diplomatic relations between the Czech Republic and Bulgaria remain strained following alleged comments made by the Czech ambassador to the country, Ondrej Havlin at a reception in October, when he apparently insulted Bulgaria's EU membership aspirations and its political leaders. The Czech Foreign Ministry, which initially dismissed the allegations, has now launched an investigation into the matter.

And finally, the weather forecast.

The weather on Friday in the Czech Republic promises to be gloomy and cold, with cloudy to overcast skies, and rain showers expected in places. The highest daytime temperatures should reach nine degrees Celsius. Temperatures during the night should reach a maximum of six degrees Celsius.