News Monday, OCTOBER 18th, 1999

You are tuned to Radio Prague. Those were the headlines, now let's take a look at the news in full:

Grave concern in Helsinki Committee USA

The Czech Republic has once more come under international fire over the affair of the Maticni street wall in the northern town of Usti nad Labem. The wall, separating Romanies from their neighbours, has been the object of much negative attention both at home and abroad in recent weeks. This time it was Chairman of the Helsinki Committee in Washington Christopher Smith, who had harsh words. He said on Saturday that the wall symbolised intolerance and racism towards Romanies and that there was no place for it in Europe. He added that the crisis surrounding the affair was damaging Czech - American ties. This comes as Romany representatives on Saturday held a debate outside Prague on the position of the minority within the Czech Republic. They discussed the issue of the controversial Maticni Street wall and decided to hold nationwide protests in the near future.

Czech President Vaclav Havel on Friday evening, repeated calls to dismantle the wall. He believes the affair is turning the Czech Republic into a symbol of xenophobia and discrimination. Vaclav Havel said that although the issue of building and destroying the wall was becoming a debate for lawyers, the solution should come from the conscience of the people. He expressed fears that the wall is becoming a barrier, isolating the country.

In spite of President Havel's grave concern that the issue is a national disgrace, a member of the European Parliament, Jurgen Schroder who visited the town on Friday, said the wall is not blocking the Czech Republic's entry to the European Union. He called the Romany question an issue which concerns the whole of Europe and not just the Czech republic.

Will there be a Super Grand Coalition?

Miroslav Macek, deputy Chairman of the opposition Civic Democratic Party, said on Sunday, the Super Grand coalition should be created as soon as possible. He explained this, saying that since the budget for next year is coming up for approval, political turmoil should be avoided. Speaking on a live debate on Czech television, Mr Macek stressed that time is the most important factor. This follows Friday's proposal by Civic Democrat leader Vaclav Klaus that a new government be created - a super grand coalition with the representation of all parliamentary parties except the communists.

The right wing opposition party, the Freedom Union, which would be a part of this Super Grand Coalition, says it wants to hear the proposal directly from the Civic Democratic Party. Chairman Jan Ruml said on Sunday that this form of government was beyond his powers of comprehension, adding that the Social Democrats would be hard pushed to come up with a programme agreeable to his party. The Christian Democratic party, another potential participant says it is prepared to negotiate, but definitely wants to see the opposition agreement between the Civic Democratic Party and the Social Democrats scrapped. After last year's inconclusive election results, the Civic Democratic party has under the agreement, been lending its support to the minority Social Democrat government in return for various highly placed positions.

The Communist party said on Saturday that its popularity would only increase even more from its current 20% if the Super Grand coalition is created. Another deputy Chairman of the Civic Democratic Party, Miroslav Benes, rejected calls on Friday, from Parliamentary opposition parties, to end the so called "opposition agreement". Mr Benes told journalists that the creation of a replacement government would take into account first and foremost the wishes of Czech voters. Although he said he personally could not imagine how a large anti-Communist coalition would function, he stressed that it would almost certainly work better than the current arrangement. High ranking officials from the Civic Democratic Party are to meet on Monday with Social Democrat representatives to discuss Vaclav Klaus' latest solution to averting the potential political crisis hovering over the Czech Republic.

Irish President in Prague

Irish President Mary McAleese is set to arrive in the Czech Republic on Monday afternoon. On Tuesday she will meet and hold talks with her Czech counterpart Vaclav Havel and head of government Milos Zeman. Mrs McAleese, a forty- eight year old lawyer who replaced Mary Robinson two years ago, is returning a visit made to Ireland by former Czech Premier Vaclav Klaus.

Visegrad Four .v. organised crime

The Prime Ministers of Slovakia, Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic held an informal meeting in Slovakia on Saturday and pledged closer co-operation, especially to combat organised crime. The Visegrad Four groups the most advanced of the former communist states in Central and Eastern Europe. Once seen as a useful instrument for regional co-operation and a potential vehicle for joint European Union accession plans, the group nearly petered out as Slovakia's previous government bickered with Hungary over ethnic minorities. It was effectively re-established in May of this year.

The most important decision from Saturday's meeting was the creation of a commission of experts to look into organised crime within the four countries. According to analysts, the ten years since the fall of communism has seen an explosive increase in money laundering, drug trafficking and prostitution in the region, which could be a major stumbling block to hopes of European Union membership.

Czechs and Slovaks bury the hatchet

Finally to end on a positive note - Slovak politicians on Sunday spoke warmly of ties between Slovakia and the Czech republic. Some even said relations between the two countries are better today, than when the two states formally separated in 1993. Deputy Premier of the Slovak government Pavol Hamzik likened Czechs and Slovaks to "a big family" and said that the atmosphere during contact between the two governments had vastly improved. This follows several years of haggling over former property and exchanging insults. Several Slovak politicians said on Sunday, that they feel the improvement in ties, comes with a change of government in Bratislava and the realization that the two states have close links not only historically but also culturally.

And we end as usual with a brief look at the weather:

Monday will see a cloudy, cold start to the day, with the possibility of more snow in the mountains. Daytime temperatures will range from 6 to 10 degrees Celsius, dropping to a chilly minus four overnight.

I'm Dita Asiedu and that's the end of the news.