News of Radio Prague

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Cabinet meets over utilities privatization

The Czech cabinet is poised to make a number of key decisions today on the privatization of the power, gas and oil refining industries. In a series of privatization deals, worth billions of US dollars, the government is to decide on strategic partners for the utilities. A special government appointed commission assessed bids over the weekend, and ruled out the great majority of interested bidders. The Trade and Industry Minister, Miroslav Gregr, said that the cabinet will not necessarily make all the final decisions today, should the offers fall short of government expectations. The largest company in the package is the power-generation giant CEZ, where Electricité de France, the Italian-Spanish consortium Enel/Iberdrola and the British International Power are the main contenders. That deal alone is estimated to be worth over eight billion US dollars.

European Union names countries on track for membership

European Union leaders have named the Czech Republic among ten countries they believe are on track to join the union by 2004. At the same time they warned that all the candidate countries still had a lot of work ahead. At a summit near Brussels, EU leaders also cleared the way for sweeping internal reforms to make expansion possible. A new Convention appointed from the governments and parliaments of member countries is being established to lead debate and propose changes to the union's founding treaties. Thirteen candidate countries - the Czech Republic among them - will be represented in the Convention, although they will not have voting rights. The Czech Prime Minister, Milos Zeman, said he was satisfied with the summit's conclusions. He said it would not have been realistic for the Czech Republic to have full voting rights in the new body when it was not yet an EU member.

Czech-built plane crashes

A Czech built Let-410 passenger plane has crashed in Colombia, killing all sixteen people on board. The plane was on a domestic flight when it crashed in heavy rain shortly after taking off from the provincial town of Medillin. The tragedy was probably the result of poor weather conditions rather than problems with the construction of the plane itself.

Former communist chief to appear in court

The long-time Prime Minister of Communist Czechoslovakia, Lubomir Strougal, appears in court today, charged with having abused his powers. Strougal is accused of deliberately preventing a number of secret police agents being brought to trial for murder. The incident occurred in 1965, when Strougal was Czechoslovak Interior Minister. The agents are alleged to have shot three men after a brutal interrogation. The prosecution says that the order to halt an investigation into the incident came from Minister Strougal himself.

EU grants Austria an extension over limiting lorries

The European Union has agreed to allow Austria to continue to limit the number of international lorries allowed to pass through the country. Because of the EU's demand that Austria drop the scheme, which was introduced for environmental reasons, the government in Vienna has been blocking the EU Transport Chapter, which has to be approved between the union and applicant countries. The Austrian Chancellor, Wolfgang Schuessel, said that he was fully satisfied with the EU's change of heart. The Czech Republic should now be able to conclude the Transport Chapter with the European Union by the end of this year.

Weather

And a glance at the weather. It's a cold start to the week here in Prague with sub-zero temperatures and snow showers. There will be more of the same in the next few days, although with warmer temperatures in low-lying areas the snow will turn to rain in the course of the week. All the Czech ski resorts report good conditions, after fresh falls of snow over the weekend.