News of Radio Prague

Prague accepts EU transition period

The Czech Republic has accepted EU calls for a transition period on the free movement of labour after EU expansion. After talks in Brussels with EU commissioner Gunter Verheugen, the Czech deputy prime minister Pavel Rychetsky told journalists that Prague would accept a transition period on condition that the length of that transition period would be negotiated individually with the governments of EU member states and would undergo revision after two years. Mr. Verheugen welcomed the news, saying he was optimistic that the respective chapter in negotiations would be closed by the end of this year. He likewise commended the Czech Republic for having made great strides in enlargement negotiations. Prague closed a tricky chapter on the free movement of capital with the EU last week.

Ex-communist experts still needed

The Czech Defence Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik has confirmed that former employees of the Communist military counter-intelligence service still hold posts at the Defence Ministry, the army and the present counter-intelligence service. Challenged by journalists to explain, the minister said the decision to retain some former members of the Communist security apparatus had been made ten years ago in view of a lack of professionals. The minister said the people in question were handpicked and screened, and there was no point in acting surprised now. He stressed that ten years ago the defence ministry and counter-intelligence service could not make a clean break and that not everyone who had worked in these institutions under the Communists should be tarred with the same brush.

EC rejects claims of fraud in Czech PHARE funding

The European Commission has rejected claims that a recent audit into the Czech Republic's EU finances had revealed fraud and mismanagement of funds. Spokesman for the European Commission Jean Christophe Filori said the claims, made in this week's edition of European Voice, were "totally absurd". He described them as "an attempt to tarnish the reputation of one of the candidate states". "The audit, to which the weekly is referring, did not uncover fraud or mismanagement, on the contrary everything was in good order," Mr. Filori told journalists in Brussels on Tuesday. In view of the fact that the EC's internal audits are confidential no further information is to be made available. The European Voice is a weekly paper published by the Economist Group.

Syria agrees to settle debt

Syria has agreed to settle a debt dispute with the Czech Republic involving, according to unofficial estimates, 500 million US dollars that accumulated as a result of Syrian arms imports from former Czechoslovakia. At the end of an official visit to Syria, the Czech foreign minister Jan Kavan told journalists that financial experts from both countries would meet to discuss the manner in which this debt could be settled. Mr. Kavan said that the Syrian President Bashar al Assad had personally opened the way for the talks, expressing an interest in seeing this matter resolved amicably. During the visit, the Czech foreign minister expressed his country's readiness to supply Syria with spare parts for war planes imported from former Czechoslovakia as well as with equipment for the oil refining industry.

President Havel briefed on army reform

The Czech President Vaclav Havel, who is Commander-in-Chief of the Czech Armed Forces, received a detailed briefing on Tuesday about plans to reform the army from the Defence Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik and the Army Chief of Staff Jiri Sedivy. The reform plans include a lay-off of employees in the army's administrative sector, sale of army property, an overhaul of spending and a gradual streamlining of units aimed at creating a fully professional army. Minister Tvrdik said that reform of the army should not be dependent on the current political situation but should be based on national consensus. He said he hoped to see important future decisions being taken by experts rather than politicians. Minister Tvrdik is the first career soldier in the post since the overthrow of communism in 1989.

Gripen fighter jets offered at lower price than expected

A representative of BAE – a British-Swedish consortium seeking to win a tender to supply the Czech armed forces with new jet fighters - has said at a press briefing in Prague that contrary to an earlier forecast the price of 36 Saab Gripen fighter jets - including training and spare parts for a three-year period - would fall below 75 billion Czech crowns. The earlier estimate was 100 billion crowns. The company has also agreed to invest in offset programmes in the Czech Republic to the tune of 150 billion crowns. The Czech Republic's ambassador to NATO, Karel Kovanda, warned earlier that NATO officials had expressed concern as to whether the country could afford the new planes and still meet all its other military obligations. The Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary joined NATO in 1999. Breaking his silence on the politically sensitive issue on Tuesday, President Havel said that he thought that the Czech Republic's location and responsibility as a NATO member were among the reasons why he favoured buying the jets.

Czech Republic and Vatican make progress on treaty

The Czech Republic and the Vatican have concluded negotiations on the wording of a treaty which would define a legal relationship between the two states. The document addresses the political and legal aspects of bilateral co- operation in the education and health sectors, the army and the prison services. Although the issue of restitution of property to the Catholic Church was not included in the treaty, officials in Prague say that the negotiations with the Vatican have had a positive impact on that process. The draft version of the document is to be debated in Cabinet before its summer break.

IRU President meets with UN Secretary General

At a meeting with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan the president of the International Romany Union Emil Scuka handed over the Romany People's Declaration approved at an IRU congress in Prague earlier this year. The declaration says that the Romany people are a nation and wish to be respected as such, but that they make no demands for their own territory or state sovereignty. Their leading representative merely asked the UN Secretary General whether Romanies could not be represented on a higher level at the United Nations and have a more active part in decision making.

Marvanova and Mlynar rivals for top post in FU

Hana Marvanova and Vladimir Mlynar, both deputy chairpersons in the Freedom Union, will fight each other for the party's top post. The party is due to elect a new chairman to replace Karel Kuhnl who now heads the Four Party Coalition. Former finance minister Ivan Pilip, who was also expected to be in the running, has withdrawn his candidacy for the top post, throwing his support behind Vladimir Mlynar, and saying he would run for deputy chairman instead .

Half of all Czechs say extremism is a problem

According to a new opinion poll more than half of all Czechs believe extremism to be a serious problem in the Czech Republic. The bulk of respondents who expressed concern and urged the government to take immediate action to curb extremism were elderly people, people with a primary school education and Communist party sympathisers. One in twenty Czechs said there was no problem with extremism and people under thirty were generally less concerned about the issue.

And finally a quick look at the weather forecast:

after a spell of unseasonably cold weather we can look forward to a slight improvement. Wednesday should bring partly cloudy skies, scattered showers and day temps between 17 and 21 degrees C. The same daytime temperatures have been forecast for the next two days.