News Monday, MARCH 23rd, 1998

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The opposition Social Democrats want a ranking party official to withdraw from an election race because of a potentially damaging scandal.

In an atmosphere of political bickering, the U.S. Senate decides to postpone the ratification of NATO's enlargement to include the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland.

And a man who 60 years ago helped save hundreds of Czech and Slovak Jewish children comes to Prague.

These are the top Czech stories at this hour, now the news in more detail, read by Libor Kubik.

CZECH-SOCDEM-SCANDAL

The Central Bohemian regional organisation of the main opposition Social Democrats on Saturday asked its vice chairman Karel Machovec not to run in the upcoming general elections.

The move comes in the wake of media reports about a deal in which the party three years ago offered influential government posts to several Czech-born Swiss businessmen in exchange for funding the Social Democrat election campaign in 1996. Machovec seems to have played a prominent role in the contract.

The full text of a memorandum from the meeting in the German town of Bamberg three years ago was published in two leading Czech papers on Saturday.

Social Democrat leader Milos Zeman claimed until recently that no such agreement exists. A German version of the text, which Zeman described as a fake, was shown on Czech Television last week.

CZECH-US-NATO

The U.S. Senate decided on Saturday to postpone indefinitely the ratification of NATO's enlargement to include the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland.

Republican majority leader Trent Lott said voting could be shelved until after an upcoming two-week Congressional recess if the Democrats continued to block the passing of a new education bill.

President Clinton, hailing the expected admission of the three new members into NATO, warned the Senate on Friday that attempts to limit further expansion could destabilise Europe.

The three states are widely expected to become NATO members next year, on the 50th anniversary of the alliance.

Here in Prague, the Social Democratic chairman of the parliamentary defence and security committee, Jaroslav Basta, said the postponement should not threaten NATO's expansion. And the house international relations committee vice chairman Jiri Payne said he was convinced that the U.S. Senate will ultimately endorse the enlargement.

BRITISH-CZECH-CHILDREN-HOLOCAUST

The man, who in 1939 saved over 660 Czech and Slovak Jewish children from deportation to Nazi concentration camps, arrived in Prague on Saturday.

Ninety-year-old Nicholas Winton helped the British Committee for Refugees to spirit into safe British and Swedish sanctuaries hundreds of children from Czechoslovak families which perished in the Holocaust a few years later. His true identity was revealed more than half a century after the end of World War II.

Mr Winton visits Prague at the invitation of the Prague Jewish Community.

CZECH-NUCLEAR-PROTEST

Activists from the Czech Duha or Rainbow environmental movement on Saturday staged a peaceful protest outside the Temelin nuclear power plant nearing completion in South Bohemia. Their demands include a revision and halting of the long-drawn-out project.

The Czech government decided in 1993 that the controversial project be completed. But Duha activist Jan Beranek maintains that today, five years and more than 20 billion crowns later, the costly project has not moved an inch and its completion could cost taxpayers more than 30 billion crowns. The movement appealed to the government to reconsider its plans.

CZECH-SPRING

Guitar playing, merry singing and chanting "Hello Spring". That's how a group of 60 YMCA activists welcomed the first sunrise of the new spring one minute past six a.m. on Saturday in the South Bohemian city of Ceske Budejovice.

The organisers said their aim was to wake people up from the lethargy of the consumer lifestyle.

CZECH-WEATHER

Well, spring has arrived in the Northern Hemisphere, but weather in Central Europe certainly does not seem to support this scientific claim.

Tomorrow and in the coming days, we expect deep-freeze conditions in the night and daytime highs a meagre minus one to plus three degrees Celsius. On the other hand, snowdrops are being sold all around Prague, and that's a promise of a warmer weather coming soon.

And that's the end of the news.