News Monday, FEBRUARY 05th, 2001

By: Daniela Lazarova

Pithart meets Cuban President, fails to secure prisoners release

The Chairman of the Czech upper house of Parliament, Petr Pithart has failed to win the release of two Czechs being held in Havana on subversion charges. After a six hour private meeting with the Cuban President Fidel Castro Mr. Pithart told reporters that he was returning home without the detainees , but that the exchange had been a "useful" contribution to ongoing efforts to resolve the sensitive case. The Czech Senate Chairman said he was convinced that both sides would continue "to do everything possible to find a solution in a reasonable time". He declined to answer reporters questions, asking those present not to ask questions "he could not or did not want to answer for fear of hindering the fragile negotiation process". Former Czech finance minister Ivan Pilip and ex-student leader Jan Bubenik have now spent over three weeks in the Villa Marista jailhouse, having been arrested shortly after meeting with Cuban dissidents. The initial charges of "subversive activities" on the grounds of which they were imprisoned have recently been changed to "activities aimed at undermining Cuba's economy".

Response to Castro-Pithart talks

Here in Prague Czech officials have exercised extreme caution in their response to the latest developments. President Havel's spokesman said the Czech head of state was not going to issue a statement while negotiations were still in progress. Representatives of all Parliamentary parties have agreed on the need to intensify diplomatic activity to try and secure the prisoners' release . The Chairman of Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee Lubomir Zaoralek has not ruled out sending a Parliament delegation to Cuba to engage in another round of diplomatic talks.

Cuban leader says he expects an apology

Meanwhile, in his first public comments on the case over the weekend, the Cuban leader said he expected the Czech Republic to apologize for the activities of its two nationals. Addressing a globalization conference in Havana, the Cuban President said "There must be an apology. We are telling the truth and we have the necessary proof" . According to the AP news agency, Fidel Castro described the Czech embassy in Havana as "a lair of spies who had been engaging in intelligence-gathering on the island since the overthrow of communism in Europe." Czech top officials have repeatedly rejected demands for an apology, saying the country had nothing to apologize for since the two Czechs had not visited Cuba in any official capacity.

Telicka warns against growing deficit in public finances

The Czech government's chief EU negotiator Pavel Telicka has warned that unless the Czech Republic curbs its growing deficit in public finances it could seriously damage its chances of early admission to the EU . Telicka urged the government to make fiscal measures a top priority. According to a finance ministry forecast this years' deficit in public finances should reach 190 billion Czech crowns, which amounts to 9,4% of the GDP. The Maastricht criteria allow a deficit no higher than 4,9% of the GDP.

Billboard sparks fresh controversy at Czech TV

A billboard carrying an apology from Czech Public Television, the country's public TV network, for alleged "programme disruptions and lack of objectivity during the recent crisis" has caused fresh controversy between the station's management and striking employees. The billboard was conceived and paid for by the management and is said to be the first in a series of steps aimed at redeeming the country's public television network in the eyes of disgruntled viewers. Striking employees have distanced themselves from the campaign, saying that the management itself was directly responsible for the mentioned problems and if it wanted to issue a public apology it should refrain from using Czech TV funds to do so .

Czech-Austrian meeting on nuclear safety

Czech and Austrian nuclear experts have agreed on a list of nuclear safety issues that need to be clarified before the controversial Temelin nuclear power plant in south Bohemia can be put into commercial operation. The eight-hour marathon session in Vienna was attended by a delegation of the European Commission, and although few details have been released of the meeting, all parties have described it as "a step in the right direction". Follow up meetings are to take place in Prague and on the site of the Temelin nuclear power plant. These three- party consultations have been called at the initiative of nuclear-free Austria, which has expressed serious concern about Temelin's safety. The plant was activated last October.

Kajinek welcomes possibility of new court hearings

Jiri Kajinek, who is serving a life sentence for two murders in the country's top- security prison, has welcomed the possibility of new court hearings into his case. The convict, who drew media attention late last year by escaping from the maximum-security Mirov prison, has maintained throughout his trial and imprisonment that he is innocent of the crimes for which he was convicted. After studying the Kajinek file himself, deputy prime minister Pavel Rychetsky on Friday announced that he had asked the Supreme Court to consider re- opening the case. Rychetsky said that while he was not convinced that the Kajinek case was a judicial error, he was disturbed by what he described as "numerous inconsistencies". Speaking from his prison cell, Kajinek thanked the deputy prime minister for his effort, calling him "a brave man" and saying that he only wanted justice.

And finally, a quick look at the weather:

Monday should bring cloudy to overcast skies with scattered rain showers and day temps between two and six degs C. Nighttime temperatures at around freezing point.