News Monday, MAY 31st, 1999

Hello and welcome to the programme. I´m Rob Cameron, first a look at the news headlines.

Those were the headlines, now for the news in more detail.

Czech politicians welcome election of Schuster as Slovak President

Czech politicians have welcomed the election of the pro-Western candidate Rudolf Schuster as the new president of Slovakia. The Czech President Vaclav Havel said Schuster´s election was a confirmation of Slovakia´s path towards greater democracy and closer European integration. Schuster, the official candidate of the four-party governing coalition, was elected president in a final round run-off vote against the former premier Vladimir Meciar. Schuster won 57 percent of the vote compared with 43 percent for Meciar. As a former member of the central committee of the Slovak communist party, Schuster was a controversial choice for president, but he told reporters after the results were announced on Sunday that it was now time to bring his country together. Slovakia has been without a head of state since March last year, as parliament was too divided into supporters and opponents of Meciar to elect a new president. The new coalition, which swept Meciar from power last September, introduced a direct ballot for presidential elections after taking office. Slovakia, which became independent in 1993, was demoted from the first wave of EU and NATO candidates amid concerns that Meciar´s style of government was becoming increasingly undemocratic. Several Czech observers however have said the ruling coalition, which was formed to prevent Meciar from holding office in Slovakia, could fall apart now their goal has been achieved.

Kasal elected chairman of Christian Democrats

The acting chairman of the opposition Christian Democrats, Jan Kasal, has been elected as the party´s new leader. Kasal received 181 of the 302 votes cast at the party´s national conference this weekend. The Christian Democrats, who enjoy strong support in rural areas, would be crucial to the formation of a majority coalition government to replace the current minority Social Democrat cabinet. Observers say the Czech Republic badly needs a majority government to tackle the severe economic problems facing the country. However analysts say Kasal´s election is unlikely to break the political deadlock in the Czech Republic. Talks in the past on forming either a broad coalition with the Social Democrats and the right-wing Freedom Union, or a fresh centre-right coalition with the Freedom Union and the main opposition Civic Democratic Party, have ended in failure. Kasal said after his election that he was ready to hold talks with the leaders of all parliamentary parties, but he stressed that such talks would not necessarily lead to the formation of a new government. The former head of the party, Josef Lux, told delegates that the Christian Democrats should work towards forming a majority coalition government with the Social Democrats and the Freedom Union. At the same time he suggested the party should not enter a centre-right coalition with the Freedom Union and the Civic Democratic Party. Lux, who resigned as party chairman in September after being diagnosed with leukaemia, harshly criticised the ODS, saying the party represented values which ran counter to a modern European civic society. Delegates later passed a motion approving Lux´s speech.

Havel recuperating at Lany

President Vaclav Havel is convalescing at the presidential chateau in Lany, West Bohemia, after being released from a Prague hospital on Friday. Havel spent one week in hospital suffering from bronchitis. His personal doctor said on Sunday that the 62-year-old president was recovering well and would probably be able to resume his official duties on June the seventh. Havel, a former chain smoker, has been plagued by illness in recent years. As well as a number of serious chest infections, he has suffered severe stomach problems and nearly died last year when his large intestine ruptured while on holiday.

Police arrest man who threw smoke bomb into skinhead crowd

Police have arrested a man who threw a smoke bomb into a crowd of skinheads demonstrating on Prague´s Wenceslas Square on Saturday. Some 150 skinheads attended the demonstration to protest at what they described as the persecution of patriotic activists. Police also arrested a man who allegedly attacked an Algerian citizen following the recent victory of the Czech ice-hockey team in the world championships. There are fears that neo-Nazi skinhead groups are attempting to organise politically under the guise of a new patriotic party, to be called the National Social Alliance.

Anti-NATO demonstration ends in scuffles with police

An anti-NATO demonstration outside the headquarters of the Czech Army in Prague ended in scuffles on Saturday as police tried to remove demonstrators who were blocking the entrance to the building. Approximately one hundred demonstrators had gathered outside the Czech Army headquarters to protest against NATO´s bombing of Yugoslavia. The demonstration was organised by the Union of Communist Youth and other radical left-wing organisations.


Finally a look at the weather. Monday will be a warm and cloudy day, with temperatures expected to reach 26 degrees Celsius, falling to around 11 degrees at night. It will be a mostly cloudy day, with scattered showers and thunderstorms in places.

And that brings us to the end of the news.