News of Radio Prague

Government goes ahead with billion-dollar air force tender

The government has decided to go ahead with a controversial plan to buy 24 new supersonic jet aircraft for the Czech Air Force. A Defence Ministry spokesman said negotiations would soon be underway with a consortium of Britain's BAE Systems and Sweden's Saab to supply 24 Gripen jet fighters at a cost of some 50 billion Czech crowns, around 1.4 billion U.S. dollars. British and Swedish firms will invest 150 percent of the price tag back into the Czech Republic in the form of offset programmes. If parliament approves the purchase, it will be the biggest defence contract in the country's history. However critics say the Czech Republic cannot afford to buy new jet fighters and create a fully professional army at the same time. The JAS 39 Gripen is used by the Swedish and South African air forces, but the aircraft has never seen combat experience.

Czechs close energy chapter in membership talks with EU

The Czech Republic has provisionally closed the energy chapter in accession talks with the European Union. The chapter was closed at a meeting in Brussels on Monday, ten days after Prague and Vienna reached a compromise over safety at the Czech Republic's Temelin nuclear power plant. However the dispute over Temelin seems far from over: Austria's Foreign Minister, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, submitted a memorandum at the meeting saying her government reserved the right to re-open the energy chapter whenever it wanted. The EU's Commissioner for Enlargement, Guenter Verheugen, warned Vienna that reopening a closed chapter was difficult, and would not be Austria's decision alone.

Green MEP: Austria "could be expelled from EU" over veto

And a member of Austria's opposition Green Party has said his country could be expelled from the European Union if it carries out threats to veto EU enlargement. European Parliament member Johannes Voggenhuber said Austria's position on Temelin, EU enlargement and other issues had "smashed the country's reputation to smithereens," adding the effects would be felt for many generations. The far-right Freedom Party - a junior partner in Austria's ruling coalition - is claiming the right to veto enlargement over such issues as nuclear safety and transport policy. Mr Voggenhuber said there was more support inside the EU for expelling Austria than for halting the enlargement process.

Poll: Czechs would vote "yes" in EU referendum

A new European Union survey shows more than half of the Czech population would vote for membership of the EU if a referendum were held on the issue tomorrow. The poll, carried out by Gallup and the European Commission, showed 54 percent of Czechs would vote "yes" in a referendum. Less than 20 percent said they would vote against. The survey was carried out in all the 13 countries applying for membership. The people of Romania and Bulgaria - two countries which have been sidelined for early EU membership - were most enthusiastic about joining, with 80 percent in favour. Meanwhile the survey showed referenda would fail in Estonia, Latvia and Malta, three of the leading candidates.

Uzbek dissident to be questioned ahead of extradition decision

Czech officials have said a leading Uzbek dissident being detained in Prague will be questioned on Wednesday, ahead of a court decision whether to extradite him to Uzbekistan. Mukhammed Salikh was arrested at Prague's Ruzyne Airport almost two weeks ago, by police acting on an Interpol arrest warrant. Last year he was sentenced in absentia to 15 years in prison by a court in Uzbekistan, after being found guilty of a bomb attack in the capital Tashkent in which 16 people were killed. He denies the charges, and leading human rights groups say the trial was politically motivated. The Czech Foreign Ministry has already said it is almost certain Mr Salikh, who lives in exile in Norway, will not be extradited.

Belgian ambassador plays the blues in Prague club

Belgium's ambassador to the Czech Republic, Bernard Pierre, appeared on stage at Prague's Archa Theatre this weekend, playing a selection of jazz and blues numbers with several diplomatic colleagues. Mr Pierre was joined on stage by the Belgian Embassy's Economic Attache, Jean Deschaft. Both men play guitar.


And finally a look at the weather. Tuesday will be another overcast day, with snow in mountain areas and rain in other parts of the country. Temperatures will peak at three degrees Celsius. Wednesday will see similar weather, with more snow and temperatures remaining around three degrees.