News of Radio Prague

Anti foot-and-mouth measures tightened

The Czech Republic has tightened measures aimed at preventing the livestock disease foot-and-mouth reaching the country. All passengers entering the country by train are required to dispose of any foodstuffs and to disinfect their shoes at the first station on the Czech side of the border. Similar controls are being introduced for visitors arriving by road. At the same time seventy border crossings for pedestrians have been closed on the borders with Poland and Germany. The Czech armed forces have offered to help in isolating farms and disposing of livestock, should the epidemic reach the country.

Youths given jail sentences for racist attacks

Six youths have been given jail sentences of up to two-and-a-half years for a racist attack in the southern Czech town of Ceske Budejovice. In November 1999 they terrorized and assaulted a party of Romanies in a restaurant in the town centre. A further ten youths have been given conditional sentences. A representative of the European Centre for Roma Rights said that the case was complicated by the fact that many of the Romanies who had been attacked were afraid to come forward as witnesses. / Some Roma organizations have expressed disappointment that the sentences were not tougher.

Prime Minister Zeman appeals to India to improve conditions for investment

Continuing his five-day visit to India, the Czech Prime Minister, Milos Zeman, has appealed to the Indian government to improve conditions for foreign investment. He pointed to difficulties faced by Czech investors, because of tariffs and quotas. Trade barriers were also prominent in talks between the Czech Finance Minister, Pavel Mertlik, and his Indian counterpart, Yashwant Sinha. Mr Sinha promised that India would continue in the gradual process of reducing import duties, which Mr Mertlik said would be important for Czech investors such as Skoda cars and the truck manufacturers Tatra. The Czech delegation has now flown on to South Korea.

Government approves schools bill

The Czech government has given the go-ahead for a bill that could bring major changes to Czech secondary schools. Under the proposal, secondary high schools taking children from the age of eleven instead of the usual fifteen would be phased out. Ministers claim that the current system is socially divisive. The bill would also allow head teachers to give oral instead of written end-of-term reports, and would enable gifted pupils to jump academic years. However, the bill looks unlikely to pass through parliament, because it has been heavily criticized not just by opposition parties but also by some MPs representing the ruling Social Democrats.

Czech politicians split over Cuba

The Czech Foreign Minister, Jan Kavan, has reiterated his doubts about the wisdom of economic sanctions against Cuba. In recent days the Foreign Ministry has come in for criticism from the US State Department for proposing a United Nations resolution that would call the US-led sanctions into question. On Wednesday the US State Secretary Colin Powell again stressed that US sanctions will remain in place as long as Fidel Castro is in power. At the same time the Czech Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee distanced itself from Mr Kavan, appealing to the Foreign Ministry to bear in mind the need for good relations with the Czech Republic's NATO allies and the European Union. Mr Kavan said that he agreed this was important, and stressed that the main aim of his proposed resolution was to condemn human rights violations in Cuba.

Havel holds press conference online

President Vaclav Havel has held his first online press conference. For over an hour he answered questions sent in via the Internet, covering aspects of his personal and political life. Interest in the virtual press conference was huge, with over ten thousand people logging in from the moment it began, which for some time completely jammed the Prague Castle website.

German companies criticized over WW2 forced labour

The Czech Republic's chief negotiator on World War Two compensation, Jiri Sitler, has accused German companies of taking too long in raising five billion marks for a fund aimed at compensating wartime forced labourers. He said that if the companies had committed the money a few weeks earlier, the latest delays caused by an American court verdict would not have happened. At the time of the court ruling, he said, German industry had not fulfilled its promise to provide the money, and therefore the court agreed to allow individual claims against German companies to go ahead. Czech and Polish negotiators have now called for a special meeting of all parties involved to prevent further delays. In the Czech Republic around seventy thousand former forced labourers have applied for compensation.

Semtex in Prison

Officials from a prison in the eastern city of Ostrava have said that the Semtex explosive found last month in a parcel addressed to one of the inmates, was intended to help him escape from custody. The prison governor said that the case was the first of its kind in the prison's history. Police specialists said that the explosive would have been sufficient to cause serious injuries to anyone in its immediate vicinity.

And finally a glance at the weather...

There will be showers throughout Thursday with temperatures between five and nine degrees Celsius. We can expect the showery weather to stay with us on Friday, but by the weekend it should get brighter.