News Monday, JANUARY 31st, 2000

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Hello and welcome to RP. I'm DL and we begin as usual with a look at the main newsstories this hour.

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

Klaus' speech stirs controversy

Civic Democratic Party leader Vaclav Klaus' speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos has met with mixed reactions in the Czech Republic. Freedom Union leader Karel Kuhnl noted that the Czech Republic's ambitions to join the EU could hardly be taken seriously when a leading parliament official openly questioned the Union's viability calling its proponents "socialist dreamers". On the other hand members of Mr. Klaus' own party have defended his right to present such an address, noting that the EU was not a sacred cow and candidate states had every right to state their opinions.

President Havel wants improved political culture

Commenting on the country's present political situation, President Havel said that an improved political culture would be far more beneficial than the birth of a new party. In an interview for Czech Radio, the president pointed out that the inability to communicate and make concessions was at the core of the country's problems and growing public discontent. Early elections, he said, could not bring about an improvement since the individual parties were so hostile they were incapable of forming a coalition.

Erste Bank's exclusive right of purchase expires

Erste Bank's right to exclusive negotiations on the sale of Ceska Sporitelna is due to expire on Monday, January 31th. Austria's Erste Bank is believed to have made an offer of 17 billion Czech crowns for a 52% share in Ceska Sporitelna , which the government is to consider on February 2nd. If it fails to accept the offer the Czech Republic's biggest bank, the IPB, backed by Nomura, will be able to make an official bid. Reportedly, IPB is prepared to make an offer 5 billion crowns higher than Erste Bank's. However finance minister Pavel Mertlik said only last Wednesday that he personally considered Erste Bank's offer "perfectly acceptable and advantageous in the long-term perspective". The finance minister has hinted that a merger of the two largest banks in the Czech Republic would result in negatives that could be dangerous for the market.

Czechs not good at foreign languages

A public survey has revealed that a full 45% of Czechs, aged 16 to 65, do not speak any foreign language. Only 15.1% of those surveyed spoke English, and only 25% of respondents said they were confident they could converse in German, French or Spanish. These results put the Czech Republic far behind other European states. For instance in the Netherlands 70% of the population speaks English, in Belgium over 50%.

Fewer complaints about taxi drivers

The Prague City Hall has reason to believe that the quality of the taxi service in Prague has finally improved. According to the CTK news agency the number of complaints the City Hall received in 1999 is the lowest in the past six years. It is said to have received 29 complaints in all, generally relating to the requested fare or the drivers' aggressive attitude.

Bad grade results in suicide

The handing out of end-of-term reports last Friday ended in tragedy for a fifteen year old girl from North Bohemia. Terrified of facing her parents over an F in geography she hanged herself by a zipper ripped out of her vest. She was discovered by her father several hours later. Apparently the F in geography was her only bad grade and psychologists have urged both teachers and parents to be more aware of children's feelings. Shocked by the tragedy some teachers have emphasized their preference for written reports of a child's progress rather than grades, which they say tend to be more traumatizing and less objective.

Finally, a look at the weather:

Monday will be partly cloudy to overcast with occasional drizzle and snow showers in the higher altitudes. Day temps between 5 and 9 degs C. Nighttime temperatures around zero.