News Monday, MAY 29th, 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 and now the news in more detail:

Gudenus: compensation for slave labour is protection money

In an interview with the Austrian magazine Profil, a member of Austria's extreme right Freedom Party, and a member of the Austrian lower house of parliament, John Gudenus, has called compensation for victims of Nazi slave labour during World War Two protection money. Austria has set up a fund with six billion schillings, or four hundred and eighty million dollars, to pay compensation to slave labourer from six Central and Eastern European states, including the Czech Republic. Mr. Gudenus said that this is protection money, that Austria has been forced to knuckle under to the world's great powers, and that Austrians today have nothing to with the events of World War Two. According to Mr. Gudenus, ethnic Germans expelled from Czechoslovakia after World War Two should also receive compensation.

Visa restrictions between Russia and the Czech Republic in force as of Monday

Visa restrictions are now in place between the Czech Republic and Russia. All Russian and Belorussian citizens wishing to visit the Czech Republic now have to apply for a visa at the Czech embassy in Moscow. The same applies to the Czechs, who have been warned by the Russian embassy in Prague to expect a delay of nine days while their applications are processed. The embassy has also noted that there have been long queues of Czechs lining up to apply for visas in the past few days.

Spidla: fears in the EU over cheap labour are unfounded

According to the Czech Minister for Labour and Social Affairs, Vladimir Spidla, fears in the EU over cheap labour from the Czech Republic are unfounded. Mr. Spidla believes that the issue of the free movement of labour within the EU, which several EU member states have expressed concern over, will not effect the Czech Republic's accession to the union. The minister pointed to the fact that when Greece, Portugal and Spain joined the EU, there were concerns raised in the EU that thousands of people from these countries would flood the EU job markets with cheap labour. This, says Mr. Spidla, did not happen, and if anything, the flow of labour was the other way round.

Mertlik: amendments threaten independence of Czech National Bank

According to the Czech Minister of Finance, Pavel Mertlik, the amendments proposed by the opposition Civic Democrats to the law on the Czech National Bank, threaten the bank's independence. Mr. Mertlik says that while he is not against obliging the government and the bank to work together, it must be on an even footing, and not in conflict with the standpoint of the European Central Bank. The European Central Bank fears that if the amendments are approved, the political pressure on the bank's decision-making processes could threaten its independence. According to Mr. Mertlik, if the law goes beyond what is acceptable to the ECB, then he cannot support it.

Hailstones cause extensive damage

Parts of Central Bohemia were hit by severe hailstorms on Saturday. Several villages in the region around the town of Pisek suffered a half-hour storm of hailstones, which measured up to five centimetres in diameter. Extensive damage was caused to houses, cars, greenhouses and gardens. The repair costs are not yet known, but in the two worst hit villages, up to sixty percent of the houses have been damaged.

Police break up demonstration in Brno

The police in Brno broke up an illegal demonstration in the Moravian capital of Brno on Saturday. The crowd of one thousand demonstrators had participated in a street party, and decided to march through the city to protest against cars and car manufacturers, even though no permit for this had been granted by city officials. There was a large police presence in the city for the event, as similar street parties in Prague have turned violent in the past. Police units cordoned of the demonstrators in one of Brno's main squares, and after negotiations between the organisers and city officials, the demonstration was called off without further incident.

Plane crash mystery

Police in the North Moravian town of Jesenik went on a wild goose chase on Saturday, following a report from a tourist who claimed to have seen a light aircraft fall out of the sky over the Jesenik Hills. An extensive search of the area was carried out by the local police and mountain rescue services, including two helicopters, until sunset, but no trace of the aircraft was found. None of the private airports in the area have reported any pilots missing, and according to a member of the rescue services, it is likely that the pilot of the plane either managed to pull up at the last moment, or the incident never happened.

Disagreement over Czech-Slovak customs union

The Czech Republic began accession negotiations with the EU on three chapters of legislation on Friday, and there was disagreement over the customs union that exists between the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The Czech and Slovak prime ministers agreed formally this week that the customs union will be maintained until both countries have joined the EU. The EU has officially accepted this possibility, but says that the customs union will have to be halted and then recommenced after the Czech Republic joins the EU. The Czech Republic hopes to join the EU in 2003, and Slovakia wants to join in 2004. The Czech Republic's chief negotiator, Pavel Telicka, rejects the EU's suggestion, saying that halting the union would interrupt the free flow of goods between the two countries. The Slovaks, however, finalised the internal relations chapter of legislation, of which the customs union is a part, during negotiations on Thursday. Pavel Telicka now intends to propose a compromise, in order to close this chapter of legislation as soon as possible.

Greek president favours Czech accession to the EU

Greek President Konstantinos Stefanopulos has told Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman that he unconditionally supports the Czech Republic's aspirations for EU membership. His remarks came during a meeting between the two on Friday in Athens. In return, Mr. Zeman gave his support for Cyprus' bid for membership. Mr. Stefanopulos and Mr. Zeman then discussed the situation in the Balkans and the fact that Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic seems to be strengthening his position. The Czech Prime Minister said that unfortunately outside pressure on dictatorships can sometimes strengthen them instead of weakening them. Instead of returning on Friday according to plan, Mr. Zeman spent the weekend on the island of Crete, where he was due to open a Czech consulate.

Havel proposes documentation centre for Chechen conflict

President Vaclav has proposed that a documentation centre be set up to monitor human rights violations in Chechnya. The president's statements came during a conference held on human rights violations in the Chechen conflict at Prague Castle on Friday. President Havle also called on Russia to open Chechen borders for foreign observers and humanitarian organisations. The participants at the conference were in agreement that the international community must make it clear to Russia that the way the conflict in Russia is being fought is unacceptable. Simon Panek from the People in Need foundation stated that if Europe is able to isolate Austrian diplomats and politicians over the inclusion of the extreme right Freedom Party in the Austrian government, then the same standards should be applied in Russia.

And finally the weather forecast.

The weather for Tuesday promises to be fairly grey, with overcast skies and rain showers in places. Temperatures during the day should be between fifteen and nineteen degrees centigrade. Temperatures during the night should be between four and eight degrees centigrade. The weather will continue much the same on Wednesday and Thursday. I'm Nick Carey, and that's the end of the news.