News Monday, MARCH 20th, 2000

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

President on the mend

President Havel is expected to be released from Prague's Military Hospital on Monday after getting a week of intensive medical treatment for bronchitis. His spokesman said that the President was feeling well and the result of his final examination was excellent. Nevertheless, the President is expected to remain at home in the coming week in order to recuperate. Doctors are exceedingly careful about the President's health in view of his chronic lung condition.

FBI to open branch in Prague

The Czech Foreign Minister believes the FBI could open a branch office in Prague by the end of this year. Speaking on Czech television, minister Kavan said the plans depended on the fairly lengthy approval procedure in the United States. Similar branch offices are already operating in Warsaw and Budapest. Their aim is to facilitate information exchange, organize seminars and provide training in fighting organized crime. The foreign minister rejected the notion that FBI officers would actively participate in investigations on Czech territory, pointing out that US legislation did not allow this.

Czech soldiers released

The seven Czech soldiers who were arrested and briefly detained by Serb police after inadvertently crossing the Kosovo-Serb border during a snow-storm are reported to be back with their KFOR unit. A KFOR spokesman said the soldiers had been on patrol duty when the storm broke and had lost their way in the snow covered mountainous terrain. They were detained by Serb police near the village of Merdare, near the main road to Belgrade, questioned and released several hours later. The spokesman said that given the bad weather conditions and mountainous terrain the incident was not the first of its kind and that such matters were resolved fairly quickly. Approximately 150 Czech soldiers are serving in KFOR under British command in North-Eastern Kosovo.

Young people want marihuana legalized

Close to 100 young people took to the streets of Brno this weekend to demonstrate against the governments policy on drugs. They demanded that the government legalize marihuana, on the grounds that it was less dangerous than tobacco and alcohol and protested against the current legislation under which young people can be charged for growing marihuana for their own use. The former legislation, amended just over a year ago, did not punish addicts only traffickers of drugs. Under the present law anyone caught in possession of a larger amount of drugs – meaning more than one doze – can be charged and jailed. Experts have repeatedly criticized the new law saying it will punish addicts, fuel corruption and make the drugs mafia richer.

Cabinet to debate foreigners' law on Wednesday

The Czech Cabinet is to decide on Wednesday about the fate of the controversial foreigners' law. The legislation has been severely criticized both here and abroad for placing excessive bureaucratic demands on foreigners residing and working in the country. One of the unacceptable regulations is that they would have to return to their country of origin in order to renew their residence permit here. The law threatens to hurt foreign investment in the country and the Prime Minister recently promised that it would be amended.

Communist criminals difficult to nail down

The Office for Investigation of Communist Crimes is investigating available archive material in the hope of being able to file charges against members of the former communist Secret Service who actively persecuted Czechoslovak Jews in the 70s and 80s. This particular operation was code-named Spider and the communist secret service had extensive lists of Jews living in this country. These lists were partly based on Nazi archive materials and those of the Slovak puppet state during the war years. During the communist years Jews were closely watched especially in view of possible contacts with relatives in Israel, they were refused permission to travel abroad or else the secret service tried to force them to emigrate. Finding sufficient evidence to file charges is however proving difficult since a vast number of records were shredded in the late 80s.

Finally a look at the weather:

Monday is expected to bring partly cloudy skies with occasional rain or sleet showers. Day temps between four and eight degs. C. A further warming is expected over the next two days with temps reaching a 12 degs high.