News of Radio Prague

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Havel - 2002 "watershed" year for Czech Republic

President Vaclav Havel, in his traditional New Year's address to the Czech people, has said 2002 will be a watershed year for his country. President Havel said the Czech people would be asked to cast their vote in a general election which he said would decide the future character of the country. Mr Havel, who has traditionally used the address to criticise political parties, said this year's general election would decide whether the Czech Republic would become an open civil society allowing all people to become involved in political life, or a closed country ruled by a small elite enjoying control over the political system, the economy and the media. Mr Havel also said the Czech people should decide how to fight what he described as "mafia capitalism" and also how to strengthen the rule of law and grass roots involvement in political decision-making. The President said 2002 would also be a watershed year because the Czech Republic is due to close negotiations on becoming a full member of the European Union.

Testing at Temelin suspended in run up to 100 percent output

Technicians suspended testing at the Czech Republic's Temelin nuclear power plant on Monday as preparations continue to bring the plant up to full capacity. Temelin's first reactor has been undergoing tests since the plant was launched in October 2000. Despite numerous technical problems, Temelin's state-run operator CEZ has forged ahead with plans to begin both the commercial operation of the first reactor and the test launch of the second in 2002. A CEZ spokesman said the tests on the plant's repaired turbine and steam valves - two key areas of trouble in the past - had been successful. The twin-reactor plant has been a source of tension with neighbouring Austria, which claims the mixture of Soviet design and Western technology is dangerous. The Czech and Austrian governments recently signed an agreement allowing Temelin to operate but under strict safety conditions.

Thousands file WW2 claims as compensation deadline expires

A Czech-German fund to compensate former World War Two slave and forced labourers received thousands of applications in the last few weeks, as December 31st was the deadline for compensation claims. Despite an extended deadline and an intensive campaign to inform those eligible about the compensation plan, a large number of former WWII prisoners and slave labourers have waited until the last minute to apply. All applicants had until midnight on New Year's Eve to deliver their applications to the Czech-German Fund for the Future. So far, some 55,000 Czechs have received compensation. Another 110,000 people have applied.

Czech railway workers and management reach compromise

Trade union representatives and Czech Railway management signed a collective agreement on Monday, promising some 83,000 railway workers a seven percent pay rise in 2002. The Chairman of the Railway Workers' Union, Jaromir Dusek, said the average railway employee's salary was around 15,000 Czech crowns, or just over 400 U.S. dollars. The past few months have seen much debate on the system of granting bonuses, with railway workers threatening strike action if a compromise was not found. Besides the wage increase, the agreement also promised bonuses for overtime, as well as weekend and night shifts.

Petty thieves to be released from prison under new law

All prisoners convicted for crimes involving theft or damage to property worth less than 5,000 Czech crowns - around 130 US dollars - will be released immediately under an amendment to the penal code. According to the amendment, all such charges are considered misdemeanours and cannot be punished by prison sentences.

Austrian police detain illegal immigrants, Czech smuggler

More than 200 refugees were arrested by Austrian police between Thursday and Sunday, after crossing the Czech border illegally. The Austrian News Agency reported that a Czech man who helped some of the illegal immigrants across the border was also arrested. The refugees came from several countries including Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Moldavia, Ghana and Iraq.

Czech central bank opens its doors for new money exhibition

The Czech central bank opens the doors of its fortress-like "strong room" on Wednesday, for a public exhibition called "People and Money". Under the gaze of armed security guards, visitors will be able to examine various forms of money - from ancient seashells to a tonne of red gold. The exhibit includes 65 showcases telling the story of Czech money, from the days of Bohemian kings through the Hapsburg Monarchy, the first republic, the communist era and up to the present day. For security reasons only 34 people will be allowed inside at one time.

Ulihrach gets off to good start at Qatar Open

The Czech tennis player Bohdan Ulihrach opened his account in the ATP Tour's Qatar Open with a comfortable 6-2 6-2 victory over Spain's Galo Blanco on Monday. The fifth seed, who reached the final last year, said he never expected such an easy victory in the first round of the tournament, which is held in Doha.

Weather

And finally a look at the weather. The next 24 hours will see a cold front moving in to the Czech Republic from the north. Tuesday night will be frosty with more snow, with temperatures dropping to lows of minus eight in places. Wednesday will be overcast with more snow, and daytime temperatures ranging from minus two to plus two degrees Celsius.