News of Radio Prague

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Lower house approves Benes decrees resolution

The lower house has unanimously approved a resolution rejecting the possibility of compensation for ethnic Germans and Hungarians expelled from Czechoslovakia after the Second World War. All 169 deputies present in the lower house voted in favour of the resolution, which reiterates the Czech position that those expelled from the country have no chance of regaining property or citizenship. Two and a half million ethnic Germans and thousands of Hungarians were expelled from the country after 1945 under the so-called Benes decrees. Expellee groups are calling for compensation, and some politicians have sought to link the issue to the Czech Republic's bid to join the European Union. The European Commission has said the issue will not affect the country's accession.

Freedom Party: Benes resolution is "provocation"

Austria's far-right Freedom Party reacted to the resolution on Wednesday by describing it as a "provocation to Austria." Senior Freedom Party official Peter Westenthaler repeated his party's threat that it would not allow the country into the EU with the post-war decrees, saying the issue was "as clear as a bell." He pointed out that Czech entry into the EU had to be unanimously approved by the Austrian cabinet, of which half the members belong to the Freedom Party. Meanwhile the EU enlargement commissioner Guenter Verheugen has welcomed what he called the "relatively moderate" tone of the resolution.

Jet purchase proposal defeated in lower house

The lower house has rejected a key government proposal on how to finance the purchase of 24 Gripen jet fighters for the Czech Air Force. The plan, outlining the financing of the country's biggest ever arms deal, failed by just one vote, and was sent back to the committee stage. Prime Minister Milos Zeman, who had urged parliament to approve the purchase as soon as possible, was not present for the vote because he is recovering from an injury. Mr Zeman later warned the opposition if the deal is not approved before June's elections it could cost the country billions of crowns.

First 30 members of field hospital to leave for Kabul

The first 30 members of a Czech army field hospital were due to leave for Afghanistan on Wednesday evening, despite lingering doubts over how the mission will be financed. The 30 soldiers will prepare the ground for the establishment of a 150-man field hospital in Kabul. Right-wing deputies recently rejected the government's proposals for financing foreign missions, a move that the Czech Defence Ministry says puts the Czech Republic's international reputation in jeopardy.

Ex-Czechoslovak secret police chief guilty but avoids prison

The last head of the former Communist secret police force, the StB, avoided being sent to prison on Wednesday after a military court in Slovakia upheld a suspended sentence against him. Alojz Lorenc received a 15-month suspended sentence in December for persecuting dissidents in the 1980s. Mr Lorenc was found guilty of arresting dissidents without legal grounds in order to prevent them from publicly protesting on certain anniversaries. Both he and the prosecution appealed the verdict, but the military court rejected both appeals on Wednesday, upholding the December verdict and declaring the case closed.

Temelin restarted amid fresh anti-nuclear protests in Austria

Technicians at the Czech Republic's Temelin nuclear power station restarted the plant's first reactor on Tuesday, amid fresh protests from Austrian anti-nuclear opponents. A spokesman said the reactor, shut down since late February for repairs to the plant's turbine, would operate at low levels during a brief testing period. The second of Temelin's two reactors will be started up for the first time next week, and both units are scheduled to be fully operational by the end of the year. The Austrian-based Anti-Atom Community said on Wednesday the Czech Environment Ministry "completely ignored" safety standards when it approved 78 building modifications at the plant. The claim was the latest in a series of protests from Austria.

Prague comes to standstill during 30-minute power blackout

Life in central Prague came to a standstill on Wednesday during a 30-minute power blackout. Trams halted in their tracks, shop lights shut off and office computer screens went blank throughout the city centre and in parts of nearby Prague 2 and 3. A spokesman for the city's electric company blamed an unexplained technical problem at a distribution station. The city's metro and buildings with backup power sources - including Czech Radio - were not affected.

Weather

Finally a look at the weather. Thursday will be another partially cloudy day, with showers in some parts of the country. Temperatures in the daytime will peak at 17 degrees Celsius, falling at night to lows of five degrees.