News of Radio Prague

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Compensation for former Nazi prisoners on the way

Germany has begun compensating former Nazi prisoners and slave labourers in the Czech Republic. At a press conference in Prague on Tuesday Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan said that the compensation money was in the post for 10,000 applicants, the majority of whom were born before 1922. Mr. Kavan called it a historic moment. The money is being distributed by the German Remembrance, Responsibility and Future Foundation. Late last month Germany's Parliament gave the final go ahead for payments to be made, after firms contributing to the compensation process received a guarantee of legal immunity from further slave labour compensation litigation in US courts. The German government and German industry have each covered half of the compensation package.

Trade Unions threaten to effect black-outs

Trade unions in energy production and distribution remain on strike alert – saying they'll effect a black out of important institutions if they are not given guarantees of a socially sensitive approach to the sector's privatization. A tripartite meeting of trade unions, employers and government representatives aimed at diffusing the crisis failed to produce the desired results on Tuesday. The three parties agreed to continue talks. In expectation of huge lay-offs in the energy sector, trade unions are demanding guarantees of a socially sensitive approach to the planned privatization and restructuring. They have threatened to effect black-outs of individual institutions –and in a worst case scenario- even switch off the national electricity grid.

Czech meat producers look for ways to increase consumer confidence

The Union of Czech Meat Producers has proposed measures aimed at increasing consumer confidence in beef and beef products. It proposes that only cows aged under five years be used for human consumption and that all beef put up for sale contain information regarding the age of the animal and a certificate of BSE testing. Cows aged over five years are believed to be in a high risk group for BSE. The Czech Ministry of Agriculture has already banned the use of beef, lamb and goat meat scraped from bones in food production. This meat is commonly used in the production of minced meat products and is considered potentially risky for the transfer of BSE to humans.

The sale of beef has slumped following the country's first confirmed case of BSE last week. The news likewise resulted in a ban on beef exports from the Czech Republic.

In a related development, Czech insurance companies say they have no immediate plans to increase the price of insurance against BSE.

Czechs to pull out of SFOR

The Czech National Security Council has agreed to cut back and re-group Czech peacekeeping forces in the Balkans by pulling out of Bosnia and bolstering operations in Kosovo. According to the Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik the reasons which spoke in favour of Kosovo were economic and political. The Czech Armed Forces were in favour of a more demanding operation but it was economically untenable to maintain Czech units in both missions.

The withdrawal of the Czech Republic's 600 troops from Bosnia should be concluded by December, leaving behind only 15 liaison officers. At the same time the Czech Armed Forces will double the Czech presence in KFOR, creating a common unit with Slovakia. The plan must still be reviewed by the government and approved by Parliament.

EP concerned about growing deficit in public financing

The European Parliament has urged the Czech government to effect measures aimed at curbing the steep deficit in public financing. In its annual progress report on the Czech Republic, the foreign affairs committee of the European Parliament described it as a democratic state with a viable market economy. The country's single most pressing problem is considered to be the growing deficit in public financing and the foreign affairs committee has urged a speedy reform of the country's health and pension systems. The Czech government has received praise for its efforts to integrate the Roma minority and fight racism, but the European Parliament remains concerned about what it describes as "a high degree of corruption in state administration".

Czech seance organizer in custody over tea-poisoning

The man who served a poisonous tea to thirty people during a meditation session, seriously endangering their health, has been taken into custody. Forty four year old Petr Chobot has been charged with illegal drug use and is being kept in custody in order to prevent him from influencing witnesses. Chobot alone did not drink the exotic beverage he served to all members of the meditation session. Fourteen people went into a coma after drinking the tea and all thirty were rushed to hospital with symptoms of serious poisoning. The accused says the exotic tea mix was prepared by South American Indians and has denied having added any poisonous substance to it. Extensive laboratory tests are underway. The victims have all recovered.

Four Party Coalition proposes direct election of President

A coalition of four centre-right parties has made public a proposed bill which would allow the President to be elected in a direct vote. Representatives of the Four Party Coalition said that since such a change would involve far reaching amendments to the Constitution, they want a public and political debate on the issue before tabling the bill in the Lower House of Parliament. A copy of the proposed bill has allegedly been sent to the Constitutional Court, Prague Castle, the government, both houses of Parliament, the country's leading universities and the press. President Havel's term in office is due to expire in February 2003 and the Four Party Coalition hope to see the next head of state elected in a direct vote.

Finally a quick look at the weather:

the night should be partly cloudy with scattered showers across the Czech Republic and nighttime lows at around 8 degs. Wednesday is expected to bring partly cloudy skies, brief intervals of sunshine and more rain, especially in the eastern part of the country, Moravia. Day temps between 17 and 21 degs C.