News Monday, DECEMBER 21st, 1998

Hello and welcome to Radio Prague. I'm Vladimir Tax and here's the news. First the headlines.

These are the main points and now the news in more detail.

Foreign ministry relief

The Czech foreign ministry welcomed the end of the United States and British air strikes on Iraq. Ministry spokesman Ales Pospisil said the Czech Republic believed Iraq will now renew cooperation with UN arms inspectors, which is the only way to end the international sanctions against the country. Pospisil also said the ministry was in contact with the Czech embassy in Iraq and that all Czech citizens there were unharmed.

50 demonstrate in Prague

Meanwhile, about 50 people demonstrated outside the United States embassy in Prague on Sunday for a withdrawal of all US troops from the Persian Gulf and an immediate end to all sanctions against Iraq. The demonstrators, mostly Arabs, not only protested against the United States and British military intervention but also criticized Saddam Hussein's regime. The organization Socialist Solidarity, which organized the demonstration, said further protest actions will be staged in January.

Havel back at work

President Havel has recovered from his latest health problems and is back at work. President Havel was stricken with a respiratory tract virus last weekend. Havel's agenda today includes the recording of his traditional new-year's speech and a meeting with premier Milos Zeman. Havel will spend Christmas with his wife Dagmar, most likely on the African continent.

Czech second in Baltika cup

The Czech ice-hockey team defeated Canada 6-3 in the Baltika cup in Moscow on Sunday and ended second in the tournament. Czechs won the gold medal last year but failed to repeat the success because of a defeat by Sweden on Saturday.

Trade union boss urges CSP management to resign

Chairman of the Czech Chamber of Trade Unions, Richard Falbr, has urged the management of the troubled Ceska Sporitelna savings bank to resign. He said it was unacceptable for the state to help the bank resolve its problems when those responsible for the situation stayed at their positions.

Foreign ministry checks embassies

The ministry of foreign affairs has started inspections of Czech embassies abroad. TV Nova reported that the inspections at embassies, especially in the Balkan countries, were a reaction to allegations of various offences, including misuse of diplomatic status.

Christmas time of Czech politicians

Most Czech top politicians will spend Christmas with their families and in the Czech Republic. The only exception is lower house speaker Vaclav Klaus who will spend the holidays in the Alps in Austria.

ODA celebrates 9th birthday

The right-wing Civic Democratic Alliance has celebrated its ninth birthday at the weekend. The party was a junior partner in the previous three coalition governments. After a scandal around the party's financing earlier this year, it nearly broke up and did not nominate any candidates in the June general elections. Nevertheless, in the Senate elections it did succeed as a part of a coalition of four right-wing parties.

Czech economy better than two years ago

According to Czech National Bank spokesman Martin Svehla, the Czech economy is in a better state than it was two years ago. Svehla explained that GDP growth had been slowing down since 1994. At the same time, demand was increasing but local companies were not able to satisfy it. This led to a significant rise in imports, which resulted in a serious imbalance of the economy. This made the former cabinet of premier Vaclav Klaus adopt two packages of austerity measures almost two years ago. Since then, both the foreign trade and current account deficits have decreased, due to the relatively strong demand for Czech goods abroad. During the same period, domestic demand has decreased, so that the economy has regained balance.

Mertlik about unemployment

Deputy premier for economic policy Pavel Mertlik has described the situation with unemployment in the Czech Republic as a crisis. He told daily PRAVO that unemployment around ten percent next year could be called a success. But in case revitalisation measures planned by the government fail, the unemployment rate could rise to around 12 percent. He said the plan included an active policy on the labour market and the creation of new jobs through investment. Minister Mertlik said he expected a further worsening of the situation of some industrial companies which would result in a series of bankruptcies.

Czech weather report

And finally, the weather forecast. We are expecting a mostly cloudy day with scattered snow showers, afternoon highs should range from one degree Celsius below zero to 3 above. Tuesday and Wednesday should be much the same: partially cloudy with occasional snow showers, and temperatures hovering around zero.

And that's the end of the news.