News Monday, JANUARY 22nd, 2001

By: Vladimir Tax

Czech ambassador to Cuba allowed to meet prisoners

Cuban authorities have allowed the Czech ambassador to Havana, Josef Marsicek, to visit two Czechs arrested by Cuban police last week after they met with local dissidents. Mr. Marsicek said Ivan Pilip and Jan Bubenik were in good condition, although they are being kept separate in small cells, approximately 2 by 3 metres, each with three other men. Mr. Pilip's wife and Mr. Bubenik's brother were also allowed to see them. The Cuban state attorney is expected to decide by Monday night whether the two men are to be released from jail, expelled from the country or tried for subversion.

The Czech Foreign Ministry has repeated that it considers that all the allegations have been fabricated and insists that Mr. Pilip and Mr. Bubenik be released immediately.

Social Democrats ask for worldwide solidarity

Meanwhile, the ruling Czech Social Democratic Party said it would ask other social democratic organisations for help in the effort to free the two Czech citizens from jail in Cuba. Prime Minister and chairman of the Social Democratic Party, Milos Zeman, said the party was relying on its friendly relations with numerous social democratic organisation worldwide.

Public figures demand end of deadlock around Czech TV

27 prominent Czech personalities have called for the resignation of three controversial managers at Czech Television. In a petition, they say that the three can never be respected, because they were installed by the former general director Jiri Hodac, who was forced to leave his post after just three weeks in office, following accusations of political bias. The station's staff have also demanded their resignation as a condition for ending their strike. The petition says that Czech TV management is paralysed and financial losses are growing due to the deadlock.

New pension law to be discussed

The Czech parliament is to discuss a new pension law which would make early retirement more difficult. The government, which proposed the law, has become worried about mass early retirements that represent an enormous burden for the state budget. The available data shows that those who retire earlier outnumber those who remain at work until pension age, even though early retirement is penalised by a lower pension. The new law would extend extra bonuses to those who continue to work after having reached retirement age. According to Josef Trnka from the Czech Social Security Office, people who retire early include mainly those who lost their jobs just before they reached retirement age, the long-term unemployed and those who are simply fed up with their jobs.

Experts worried about falling birth rate

The Czech birth rate has fallen by 30 percent since 1970. According to the latest data provided by the Czech Statistical Office, there are now 9 children born per 1000 inhabitants a year, while 30 years ago, it was 15 children per 1000 inhabitants. Experts say the demographic development is worrying, because the ageing of the population, which is common throughout Western Europe, is likely to create serious problems for the labour market.

Weather forecast

And finally, the weather forecast. We are expecting a rather cloudy day with scattered snow showers. The highest daytime temperatures should hover around zero. The beginning of next week should be a little warmer, but cloudy with rain showers, with afternoon highs up to 5 degrees Celsius.