News Monday, FEBRUARY 28th, 2000

Hello and welcome to the programme. I'm Nick Carey and this is the news. First, a look at the headlines.

Those were the headlines, now the news in more detail:

Austrian Foreign Minister wants bilateral talks on Benes Decrees

Austria's Foreign Minister, Benita Ferrero-Wagner says that Vienna wants to hold bilateral talks with Prague over the Benes decrees, and that it will not make the Czech Republic's accession to the European Union conditional upon resolving this problem. The Benes Decrees were issued at the end of the Second World War, and dealt with the forced expulsion of the Sudeten German minority from Czechoslovakia. The new Austrian government's programme includes the Benes Decrees, and compensation for the Sudeten Germans, as a matter that needs to be resolved. This has created fears in Prague that Vienna would make EU membership for the Czech Republic conditional upon this matter. Mrs. Ferrero-Wagner admitted that the government's programme had been poorly formulated, and had created some doubts. She said that Vienna wants to resolve the issue bilaterally, in co-operation with a commission made up of historians.

Roma community fears anti-Roma Internet game

Roma community leaders in the North Bohemian town of Usti nad Labem have expressed their fear of a computer game that is being spread via the Internet. The game is called Maticni Street, named after the street where a wall was erected between non-Roma housing and a predominantly Roma housing estate. The wall was the focus of international criticism, and was eventually torn down. In the game, players are supposed to shoot at Roma who are trying to dismantle the wall, and it contains racist statements such as "a dead Roma is a good Roma". One of the members of the Roma community in Usti nad Labem, Gisela Lackova, told journalists she was afraid that the game would inspire neo-Nazi elements to come and shoot her.

Albright running for Czech president?

According to America's Time magazine, Czech-born US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is considering running for Czech president. Time, quoting unnamed sources, claims in its latest edition that the current president, Vaclav Havel, told Albright a year and a half ago that he would like her to succeed him as president. The magazine further claims that Albright has not rejected the idea, but she has told Havel and other officials in the Czech Republic that she will not make any decisions until the Clinton administration leaves office in January 2001. State Department spokesman James Rubin has told journalists that while Mrs. Albright is flattered that the Czechs would consider her for such an important job, she is not giving the matter serious consideration.

Extreme right leader placed on remand

The leader of the extreme right party the National Alliance, Vladimir Skoupy, has been placed on remand pending trial. Mr. Skoupy is charged with spreading fascism. At a neo-Nazi demonstration held last week in support of the inclusion of Joerg Haider's far right Freedom Party in Austria, Mr. Skoupy was apparently seen wearing a uniform worn by applicants to join the SS during the Second World War. Mr. Skoupy may also face charges for denying the existence of the Holocaust at a National Alliance rally held in October. These charges were originally dismissed by the state prosecutor for the district in Prague where the demonstration took place, but this decision has been overruled by the regional state prosecutor.

Kuhnl elected head of the Freedom Union

At the annual congress of the right-of-centre Freedom Union party, Karel Kuhnl, who has been the party's acting chairman since his predecessor Jan Ruml stepped down in December last year, was formally elected chairman for the next two years. Mr. Kuhnl beat his only rival, Vladimir Mlynar, by a convincing majority. Mr. Mlynar has instead been voted in as the party's First Deputy Chairman. Mr. Kuhnl's election as chairman has been welcomed by the other three parties in the Four Party Alliance, and he repeated after his election that he does not exclude the possibility that he will be a candidate to lead the Four Party Alliance. Reactions from the ruling left-of-centre Social Democrats have been less enthusiastic to Mr. Kuhnl's election, saying that they do not expect any real changes from the party's new leadership.

US says basic human rights upheld in the Czech Republic

In its annual report on human rights around the world, the United States State Department says that the Czech Republic upholds basic human rights. According to the report, however, there are still problems concerning the actions of the police, court proceedings, attitudes to women, but primarily concerning discrimination against the Roma minority, and the violent actions of neo-Nazi groups towards them. The Czech police, the report says, is riddled with corruption, and police officers traditionally take money from fines and place it directly into their own pockets. The police have also not taken strong enough action against those who attack the Roma. The Roma themselves, however, the report says, are not united behind a common programme, and have therefore not been able to put forward their own demands within the country's democratic structures.

Dvorak breaks European record

Czech athlete Tomas Dvorak has broken the European heptathlon record at indoor athletics championships in Belgium. Dvorak broke the existing record by six points, and came extremely close to breaking the world record. Dvorak finished well ahead of the rest of his opponents, but it was good news for another Czech competitor, Roman Sebrele, who took second place.

US promises help for Czech firm

The United States is apparently willing to help Czech firm ZVVZ Milevsko find a replacement for an order to provide air conditioning equipment to a nuclear power plant in Iran. The order was cancelled by the Czech government following pressure from Western powers, who fear that the power plant in Bushehr could be used to boost Iran's nuclear capability. ZVVZ Milevsko's management claims that losing the order, worth up to 300 million dollars, could harm the company's future. In response, according to the spokeswoman for the American ambassador in Prague, Victoria Middleton, the US will endeavour to include the company in public tenders in America to provide similar equipment.

And finally the weather.

Monday promises to be another warm day in the Czech Republic, with partially cloudy to clear skies. Temperatures during the day should range between eight and twelve degrees centigrade. Temperatures during the night should be around zero degrees centigrade. The weather on Tuesday should be slightly colder, with the possibility of scattered rain showers. I'm Nick Carey, and that's the end of the news.