News Friday, OCTOBER 22nd, 1999

Hello and a very warm welcome to the programme. First we 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, read by Dita Asiedu:

Communists on top

An opinion poll raised eyebrows and political hackles on Thursday in Prague, as it revealed that the communists have become the most popular party in the Czech Republic. The poll showed the Communists jumping four percentage points from last month to 21%, overtaking the Civic Democratic Party which slipped to 17% from 20.

The survey was conducted among 945 potential voters from October 4th to 11th. This came just as the Civic Democratic Party triggered more political turmoil by demanding a change of government. Ironically enough, the results of the poll were released as the Czech Republic prepares to celebrate its tenth anniversary of the overthrow of the communist stranglehold on the country. Experts say that unless the economic situation in the Czech Republic improves, communist popularity is likely to soar.

Jiri Pehe, Independent advisor to President Vaclav Havel reminded journalists that each time elections were held, the communist party showed better results than experts had expected.

Czech President Vaclav Havel, who as a dissident, suffered plenty of hardship under the communist regime, had words of warning for Prague political parties. He told them to stop playing around and building petty alliances. He called on the democratic parties to come up with a sound, intelligent programme which would knock the communists out the running. Vaclav Havel noted that the rising popularity of the communists must surely prompt other parties to think about the country, its future and the hopes of the people.

On Thursday, Civic Democrat leader Vaclav Klaus, expressed his disbelief at the findings, which indicate that if elections were held now, the communists would win. Klaus told reporters he cannot believe that every fourth Czech person would vote for the communists. He did express the hope however, that this would serve as a wake up call to the democratic parties in Parliament and help bring about an end to the tension and discord between politicians. Another member of Klaus' party, echoed these words, saying it was a sign that Czechs are dissatisfied with the current political stalemate.

Social Democrats say the opposition agreement stays

Social Democrat leaders met on Thursday evening, to discuss the Civic Democratic party's proposal to scrap the opposition agreement and set up a broad coalition. Czech Premier and leader of the Social Democrats, Milos Zeman, rejected speculation that the Civic democrat party had virtually put an end to the opposition agreement by calling for the coalition. Mr Zeman said the agreement would cease to exist only when a vote of confidence in the government takes place.

This meeting comes as the centre-right Christian Democrats said on Thursday that they are in favour of a pro-European minority government, led either by the Social Democrats or the opposition Civic Democratic Party. Deputy Chairman of the Senate and Christian Democrat Petr Pithart believes this is the only way out of the country's current political problems. He said: "This is a much better solution, than the present opposition agreement or a grand coalition".

Petr Mares, Deputy Chairman of the other centre-right party, the Freedom Union, said a majority government could only be created between the Social Democrats and the Civic Democratic Party. He added that if this does not take place, the Freedom Union would support a minority government, but only on condition that it would consider European Union membership a top priority. This comes as the two parties dashed Civic Democrat hopes of a super grand coalition, excluding the communists. Civic Democrat leader Vaclav Klaus made the proposal last week, as an alternative to the current power sharing arrangement between his party and the Social Democrats.

Miroslav Kalousek, deputy Chairman, of the Christian Democrats said on Thursday that the four smaller parties would like to see a change of government, but brought about only by standard political procedures. "For the last sixteen months, we have been taking part in a political experiment called the opposition agreement which evidently does not work" he said.

Sanctions against Yugoslavia

The Prague Parliament on Thursday, approved a proposal that the Czech Republic join the international community in applying sanctions against Yugoslavia. The sanctions include freezing assets, and stopping all exports of material which could be used to repair sites bombed by NATO forces in spring. The European Union called for the sanctions half a year ago. The reason Prague has taken six months to join the efforts, is that relevant legislation was lacking.

Irish Support for CR

Irish President Mary McAleese expressed her full support on Thursday for Czech membership of the European Union. She was speaking during a working lunch with Czech Premier Milos Zeman as she concluded her visit to the Czech Republic. Mrs McAleese said Ireland was looking forward to deepening Czech- Irish ties when Prague enters the Union.

MP's falling ill

A curious debate took place in the Czech Parliament on Thursday as MP's critcised a poor showing among Social Democrat ministers. Deputy Premier Pavel Rychetsky reminded all present that three cabinet ministers are in hospital. Opposition leader and Chairman of Parliament, Vaclav Klaus subsequently advised MP's to take vitamin supplements. Foreign Minister Jan Kavan has been in hospital since Wednesday. He was admitted to the military hospital in Prague after doctors found he had high blood pressure. Kavan is the third cabinet member to go to hospital in recent weeks. Deputy Premier Egon Lansky is being treated for varicose veins and Interior Minister Vaclav Grulich was taken to hospital on Tuesday, suffering from a virus.

And we end as usual with a brief look at the weather:

Friday will see a ridge of high pressure moving over the Czech Republic from the east, bringing with it some warmer weather. Skies will be cloudy, with the possibility of rain in some areas. Temperatures during the day will range from 10 to 14 degrees Celsius, dropping to as low as -2 degrees Celsius overnight.

I'm Dita Asiedu and that's the end of the news.