News of Radio Prague

2002 budget approved by Lower House

The Lower House of Parliament has approved the government proposed budget for 2002. The draft proposal, which envisages a 46.2 billion crown deficit, gained approval due to strong backing from the right wing Civic Democratic Party, which has a power-sharing agreement with the governing Social Democrats. Deputies for the opposition Four Party Coalition and the Communist Party voted against the bill, claiming a lack of transparency in financing and an excessive deficit. The bill still has to be approved by the Senate and signed by the President.

President Havel in hospital

President Havel, who was hospitalized with breathing problems late on Monday, has developed pneumonia. The president's personal physician Ilya Kotik said the President was being treated with antibiotics and has undergone tests aimed at preventing complications. The president's spokesman has described his condition as "fairly serious" and doctors refuse to say how long the president may have to remain in hospital. Mr. Havel has suffered from chronic bronchitis ever since undergoing partial lung removal surgery in 1996. He has been hospitalized four times this year and, under doctors' orders, has been living at Lany Chateau since November to avoid the polluted air of the city center.

RFE/RL may have to move out of city centre

The National Security Council has advised the Czech government to start talks with Radio Free Europe on moving the station to a safer location. The Prime Minister Milos Zeman told reporters on Tuesday that the matter should be resolved as soon as possible "in the interest of Prague citizens". The defense ministry has allegedly proposed five alternative buildings located away from the city centre. RFE spokeswoman Sonia Winter said the station had no plans to move but would consider any government proposals. The glass-plated RFE/RL building at the top end of Wenceslas Square is considered a major security risk and since the September 11th terrorist attacks it has been surrounded by armored vehicles, soldiers and police. The security measures have disrupted traffic along a nearby highway.

Parliament overrules President's veto of church law

The Lower House has overruled President Havel's veto of a controversial law redefining the relationship between religious organizations and the state. The President refused to sign the new church law on the grounds that it is in violation of the Bill of Human Rights and Freedoms and Church representatives have said they will take the matter to the Constitutional Court. Although the new law facilitates the registration process for small churches and religious organizations its opponents claim that it gives the State sweeping new powers. Church officials are particularly upset about the fact that under the new law church run hospitals and charities will have to re-register separately from the churches themselves and, similarly as regular NGOs are to be held accountable to the interior ministry.

Court rejects Roma compensation claim

A Prague court has rejected a Roma woman's claim for compensation in connection with the highly controversial Maticni wall built in the town of Usti nad Labem to separate the homes of Roma and white residents. The woman, Gizela Lackova sought 100.000 crowns in compensation and an apology from local government officials claiming that her dignity was violated when the city built a stone wall between her minority neighborhood and the homes of white residents nearby. The wall drew protests from human rights groups and the European Union and was torn down shortly after being completed in October 1999. Lackova's lawyer told the CTK press agency she may appeal the decision to the country's highest court.

Czech troops may be deployed in Kuwait

The 400-strong Czech contingent which is to participate in the international anti- terrorist operation in Afghanistan may be deployed in a US base in Kuwait, according to the deputy chairman of Parliament's Security and Defense Committee Milos Titz. In line with a US request , the Czech Republic is preparing to send out a chemical defense unit, a field hospital and a logistic unit. The Czech Parliament is to meet on Wednesday to officially approve the deployment of Czech troops abroad. This is done whenever Czech troops serve abroad for a period longer than two months.

Strougal trial adjourned

The trial of former communist prime minister Lubomir Strougal has had to be adjourned for at least a month after three scheduled witnesses failed to attend a court hearing on Tuesday. Lubomir Strougal is charged with abuse of power for allegedly covering up the murders of three political dissidents killed by the secret service in 1948.

Weather forecast

We can expect an overcast night with scattered snow showers and temps dropping to minus six degs C. Wednesday should be partly cloudy to overcast with more snow and temperatures around freezing point.