News of Radio Prague

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Agreement between the Czech state and the Catholic church signed in Prague

Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda and the Papal ambassador Josef Erwin Ender signed in Prague on Thursday an agreement that outlines the rules for relations between the Czech state and the Catholic church. Mr. Svoboda said that the agreement would also be advantageous for other churches and religious communities registered in the Czech Republic. Its critics say, however, that the agreement violates the country's independence and gives the Catholic church numerous privileges. The document must still be approved by the lower house of parliament.

Former Communist high-ranking official acquitted by Prague Court

Prague Municipal Court on Thursday acquitted former Communist Party high-ranking official, Lubomir Strougal. The 77-year-old former Czechoslovak Prime Minister was accused of abuse of power when he, back in 1965, as Interior Minister, stopped investigation of a group of Communist secret police officials suspected of murdering three people. State attorney Martin Omelka said he would appeal to the Supreme Court.

Central Bank cuts interest rates more than expected

At its meeting on Thursday, the Czech National Bank board significantly reduced the interest rates by 0.75 percentage point. The key two-week repo rate is down to 3 percent, which is its historically lowest level. The other interest rates were lowered below the eurozone level - the discount rate now stands at 2 percent, and the Lombard rate at 4 percent. Economic analysts had expected the Central Bank to cut the interest rates by half a percentage point at most. The main reasons for the more radical reduction include the appreciation of the Czech currency and a slow economic revival in Europe.

Srba's lawyer convinced his client is not guilty

Miroslav Krizenecky, the lawyer of former senior Foreign Ministry official, Karel Srba who is accused of plotting to kill a journalist, has said he is convinced his client is innocent. After visiting Srba at the prison in Pilsen where he is being kept, Mr. Krizenecky said he now had the strong feeling that there was a woman behind the whole affair - namely Srba's girlfriend, Eva Tomsovicova, who is currently also in custody. Mr. Krizenecky said he had learned many new facts, which he could not disclose, though, as the investigation has just started. The police have imposed an information embargo on the case, saying they need to work in peace.

Austrian Freedom party says Czech Foreign Minister is playing tricks

Senior official of the Austrian far-right Freedom Party, Daniela Raschhofer has described the new Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda's willingness to discuss the Benes decrees from the historical point of view as a trick aimed at appeasing Austria. Minister Svoboda said he was willing to talk about the Benes decrees, which sanctioned the expulsion of some 2.5 million ethnic Germans from post-war Czechoslovakia, but that they should be looked at as part of history. Mrs. Raschhofer said the Czech Republic was not ready to enter democratic Europe and that Mr. Svoboda only wanted to calm Austria during the final phase of accession talks before the Czech Republic joins the EU.

Poultry meat imports from EU renewed as of August

As of August, imports of poultry from the European Union to the Czech Republic will be renewed, but only under new veterinary rules. According to the spokesman of the State Veterinary Administration, Josef Duben, the veterinary authority in the country of origin will be obliged to provide information as to whether the exported meat was modified with beef proteins. Poultry imports were banned earlier this month after beef proteins had been found in meat coming from the Netherlands. Modification by beef proteins is not allowed in the Czech Republic.

Credit union managers allegedly embezzled 50 million crowns

North Moravian police have charged five managers of the failed První sporitelni druzstvo credit union based in the town of Krnov. According to investigators, the union's former chairman, deputy chairman and three other board members embezzled 50 million crowns from the credit union. They are facing charges of violating of obligations in the administration of other people's property and falsifying the economic situation of the company. The managers allegedly transferred illegally the union's funds to daughter companies, which all went bankrupt and the credit union never received its money back.

Coach collision has claimed its first victim

A Czech coach carrying tourists collided with a car near the village of Dobsice around 6 a.m. on Thursday on its way from Greece to the Moravian capital of Brno. 38 people we injured, 11 seriously. Later in the day a young woman, heavily injured in the chest and abdomen, died during an operation in hospital in Znojmo.

Weather

Temperatures on Thursday night will range between 9 and 13 degrees, and Friday is expected to be a cloudy and rainy day with afternoon highs reaching up to 20 degrees Celsius.