News of Radio Prague

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European Union adopts declaration on future

European Union leaders have adopted a declaration on the Union's future, to reform the cumbersome 15-nation bloc as it admits up to a dozen new members. In a controversial decision, the former French President, Valery Giscard d'Estaing, who is a strong supporter of further European integration, has been appointed to head a new Convention, that will lead debate and propose changes to the Union's founding treaties. Alongside EU members, thirteen candidate countries - the Czech Republic among them - will be represented in the Convention. The process of reform is expected to be complete by 2004, when the first former Eastern Bloc countries are widely tipped to join the Union.

Two right-of-centre parties join forces

Two of the parties in the right-of-centre Czech opposition grouping known as the "Four Coalition" are to merge from the first of January. Members of the Freedom Union have voted by an overwhelming majority to merge with the non-parliamentary Democratic Union, which will cease to exist from the new year. The "Four Coalition", one of the strongest political groupings in the Czech Republic, will become a coalition of three, a move which will have implications for its chances in next year's general election. Under a new election law passed by the lower house this week, each contesting political party has to break the five percent barrier in order to enter parliament, even if it forms part of a coalition bloc. In its new form the coalition will now require fifteen instead of twenty percent of votes. Freedom Union leader, Hana Marvanova, said that the merger will make the coalition more transparent and will help to reinforce the political right.

Uzbek dissident leaves the Czech Republic

The Uzbek dissident Mohammed Salikh has left the Czech Republic after being held for over two weeks in custody. He was arrested on an Interpol warrant, after coming to Prague on the invitation of the American owned Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, based in the Czech capital. Mr Salikh is wanted by the Uzbek authorities, which claim he is linked with terrorist activities in the capital Tashkent. On Friday a Prague court released Mr Salikh, on the grounds that he would have faced inhuman treatment or even death, had he been extradited to Uzbekistan. Human rights groups, as well as Czech President Vaclav Havel, rallied to Mr Salikh's support, pointing to human rights abuses by the authoritarian regime in Uzbekistan. Mr Salikh has now flown to Norway, where he was granted asylum two years ago.

Carnegie Hall launches Dvorak project

New York's famous Carnegie Hall, has launched a new internet project, devoted to the great Czech composer, Antonin Dvorak. The project, on www.listeningadventures.org, enables classical-music-loving surfers to listen to Dvorak's New World Symphony and to follow an interactive animated exposition of the symphony. The hall's artistic director said that the project was aimed mainly at schools, and was a way of bringing the Carnegie Hall's work to children around the world at the click of a mouse. The New World was premiered at the Carnegie Hall during Dvorak's stay in the United States in 1893.

Weather

And I'll end with a glance at the weather. It will remain very cold, with nighttime temperatures as low as minus 10 degrees Celsius and snow showers during the day, with temperatures between minus 5 and freezing point. Conditions for skiing in most of the Czech resorts are excellent.