News of Radio Prague

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Government approves modernisation plan for armed forces

The government has approved a plan to create a professional standing army by 2007. Responsibility for the project has been handed over to Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Social Democrats, Vladimir Spidla, with support from Defence Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik. The government is to produce a report on the modernisation programme by the end of October. The plan approved by the government states that as of January 1st 2007, the Czech Republic is to have a professional standing army totalling some 35,000 troops, with 10,000 civilian employees. The armed forces are currently heavily reliant on conscripts, and the Defence Ministry says it wants to modernise the army so that the Czech Republic can be a fully functional member of NATO.

Czech President Vaclav Havel has called for a political consensus on the issue, and has called for talks to be held at Prague Castle between himself and representatives of all parliamentary parties, with the exception of the Communist Party. The modernisation of the armed forces, the president warned in a statement, must not be allowed to become a pawn in election campaign leading up to the general elections next year.

Committee says work of UK immigration officials is professional

The Czech Helsinki Committee has found no irregularities in the work of British immigration officials at Prague's Ruzyne airport, but has repeated its call for them to be removed. The controls were originally introduced in July, and were aimed at stemming the flow of Czech nationals seeking asylum in the UK. As the overwhelming majority of the asylum seekers are from the Czech Republic's Roma minority, the measures have been described as racist and discriminatory by human rights groups and Roma representatives. The officials were removed from Prague's airport at the beginning of August, with the provision that they could return if the number of asylum seekers rose again. The controls were then re-introduced at the start of this week. Members of the Czech Helsinki Committee have been monitoring the work of the British immigration officials, and announced on Wednesday that they had found no irregularities. But they reiterated their opposition to the measures, and stated that they will continue to oppose them.

Czech soldiers charged with death of comrade

Three Czech soldiers serving in the SFOR peacekeeping mission in Bosnia Herzegovina have been charged following the death of a fourth soldier. The fourth soldier, Ivan Zapadlo, died in July after an artillery grenade exploded at the Czech army's base in the region. An investigation has shown that the three men had committed a severe breach of duty and had damaged the grenade prior to its explosion. They also apparently breached safety protocols and have been charged with disobeying orders, using weapons without permission and causing grievous bodily harm.

On a related note, the last Czech forces serving in SFOR completed their tour of duty on Wednesday. Due to the financial burden of having several different units in the Balkans, the Czech government has decided to remove its troops from Bosnia Herzegovina and instead strengthen its presence in KFOR, where there is a joint Czech-Slovak unit. The commander of the SFOR peacekeeping mission, Patrick Hillier, paid tribute to the Czechs, describing them as professionals with a good sense of humour.

Visas to be introduced for Romanian nationals

The Czech government has announced that visa restrictions are to be introduced for Romanian nationals. The cabinet voted on Wednesday to annul an intergovernmental agreement with Romania and that visas will be required as of October 1st. The main reason for the step is the growing number of Romanians seeking asylum in the Czech Republic. Romanians now account for eleven percent of all refugees seeking asylum in the Czech Republic.

Government hands over properties to Jewish community

The Czech government has approved a plan to transfer twelve selected properties, plus one building, a former high school, to the ownership of the Czech Republic's Jewish community. The aim of the decision, government spokesman Libor Roucek told journalists, is to make partial amends for the suffering of Czech Jews during the Holocaust. The government has also stated that it will examine a list of properties that the Czech Jewish community has requested be returned to Jewish ownership. The list contains almost 1,500 properties, but according to government officials, only some one hundred will actually be returned.

Weather

And finally, a quick look at the weather forecast. Thursday in the Czech Republic should see partially cloudy skies, with the possibility of rain showers in places. Daytime highs could reach up to 24 degrees Celsius. Night-time lows on Thursday could drop to 8 degrees Celsius.