News of Radio Prague

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Senate rejects amendment on constitution

The Four-Party Coalition used its majority in the Senate on Thursday to block an amendment to the constitution proposed by the ruling Social Democrats and main opposition Civic Democrats, which dominate the Lower House of Parliament. The amendment was designed to favour larger political parties and weaken the powers of the president. The Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman expressed his deep regret over the rejection of the amendment, saying that its contained a number of useful points, including limiting the president's right to pardon criminals. The Senate also approved a draft law which would reduce the immunity of members of parliament.

Ministers: Temelin, Sudeten Germans will not stand in way of good relations

The Czech and Austrian Foreign Ministers have said that disputes between the two countries will not stand in the way of good bilateral relations. After meeting his Austrian counterpart, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, in Vienna on Thursday, Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan said that both the Temelin nuclear power plant and the post-war Benes Decrees - two issues that have caused friction between the two countries in the past - would not stand in the way of good Czech-Austrian relations and of the Czech Republic's candidacy for EU membership. Mrs. Ferrero-Walder, who has adopted a new foreign policy to improve ties with Austria's neighbours, said there were no disputes that couldn't be resolved through bilateral talks. Many Austrians are fiercely opposed to the Temelin nuclear power station in South Bohemia, while the post-war expulsion of Czechoslovakia's ethnic German minority has also soured relations in the past.

Senate approves law on witness protection

The Czech Senate has approved a new witness protection law. According to the law, witnesses whose lives may be in danger when testifying against dangerous criminals will be allowed to change their identity, or move abroad. Most Senators, however, had reservations about a clause in the law which would give the Interior Minister the power to halt a witness protection programme. This power is meant to be exercised in cases where the witness in question breaks the law, but could be misused by interior ministers in the future, some senators warned. The law will come in effect if approved by the President.

Putin to visit Prague in near future

President Vaclav Havel's spokesman confirmed on Thursday that the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, plans to visit the Czech Republic in the near future. President Putin has accepted an invitation from his Czech counterpart and is now thinking of a concrete date. The past few months have seen a significant improvement in Czech-Russian ties, following several years of cool relations after the 1989 overthrow of the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia. Relations begun to thaw when Russian Foreign Minister, Igor Ivanov visited Prague, followed by an official visit of the Chairman of the Upper House of the Russian Parliament, Jegor Strojev.

Anti-nuclear activists "withdraw" from Melk agreement; more blockades planned

And Austrian and Czech anti-Temelin activists announced on Thursday that they would conduct further blockades of the Czech-Austrian border in the near future. The Austrian and Czech Prime Ministers signed the Melk Agreement in December, in which they agreed to conduct an environmental impact study on Temelin. The agreement followed a series of border blockades last year. But most of the anti-nuclear activists have now decided to "withdraw" from the Melk Agreement, saying that the Czech Republic had failed to expose a number of safety problems at Temelin, and that Prague was not willing to communicate openly with the public.

Cerna receives 3-month suspended jail sentence for sheltering Kajinek

A court in Prague has given Marie Cerna a suspended three-month prison sentence for sheltering the convicted murderer Jiri Kajinek in her home after he had escaped from prison. Kajinek, a convicted contract killer who escaped from a maximum security prison earlier this year, hid in her flat for 40 days before he was recaptured by police. She told the court that although she knew that she was breaking the law, fear for her life kept her from going to the police. Kajinek, who was one of the witnesses brought before the court, testified that she could indeed have been scared as he was armed throughout his stay.

NGO's receive 48 million Czech crowns as grants

Prague representatives divided a 48 million Czech crown (c. 1.2 million U.S. dollars) grant among a number of NGO's on Thursday. The money is to be used for social, health, anti-drug and minority support campaigns in Prague. The projects have already been chosen, following a public tender. Almost 30 million crowns will be given to the social sector, 5 million crowns to the health sector, a little over 10 million is to be used to fight drugs, and 3 million will be allocated to projects in support of minority groups.

Weather

And finally, a quick look at the weather. Friday should see cloudy skies with occasional rain and temperatures between 7 to 11 degrees Celsius. Friday night is expected to be overcast with night-time temperatures ranging from 1 to 5 degrees Celsius. The week-end should reach a maximum of 14 degrees Celsius.