News Saturday, APRIL 03th, 1999

Hello and welcome to Radio Prague. I'm Ray Furlong and we begin with the news headlines.

Those are the headlines - now the news in more detail.

The government has approved a request from NATO to open Czech airspace to allied planes making attacks on Yugoslavia. The decision was taken at a special session of the cabinet, and announced to Parliament shortly afterwards by the deputy prime minister with responsibility for foreign affairs, Egon Lansky. However, the government decision was not unanimous - four ministers abstained from voting. Previously, NATO planes were only allowed to fly over the country on supply missions to allied bases in Hungary.

The Communist Party submitted a motion to Parliament calling on it to vote on the government's decision - but the move was rejected by other parties. Deputies argued that the power to grant airpsace to NATO planes was fully in the hands of the cabinet. But the issue was controversial, and there were differences of opinion within some parties. The chairman of the defence and security committee, Petr Necas of the opposition Civic Democrats, said the government had made a mess of handling the issue by not making a decision on it a week ago and therefore giving Parliament time to discuss it properly.

The American ambassador, John Shattuck, has sought to dispell reports that NATO was disappointed about allegedly lukewarm Czech support for airstrikes on Yugoslavia. Speaking with Czech journalists in Prague, he said the Czech Republic was meeting its NATO obligations - and that this strengthened its own security. He went on to say that NATO was stronger with its three new members - Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic - and this showed Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic that the horrors he was carrying out in Kosovo were condemned by the whole of Europe. On Thursday, the Czech ambassador to NATO came under fire from the Foreign Minister, Jan Kavan, for suggesting that the alliance was surprised by a lack of solidarity from Prague.

An opinion poll shows that support for European Union expansion among individual member states is low - and getting lower. Only 42 percent favour enlargement, while 32 percent oppose it and the rest said they didn't know. The poll was carried out by the Eurobarometer agency on over 15,000 people across the EU. It shows support for expansion strong in Scandinavia, as well as in Spain and Greece, with opposition firm in Germany and France. The country most favoured by EU citizens for membership is Malta, followed by Hungary and Poland. Around 45 percent backed Czech membership, while about a third opposed it.

Despite the grim reading the poll might make for Czechs, members of Parliament have continued in their efforts to achieve membership of the Union by approving the European Social Charter. The EU's social code was approved in first reading by the lower house of Parliament, despite strong opposition from some deputies from the opposition Civic Democrats who described it as "socialist." But the Labour and Social Affairs Minister, Vladimir Spidla, warned that rejecting the charter would send the wrong signal to Brussels - and all the other parties supported it.

And to end, a quick look at the holiday weather: skies will be clear and temperatures between 14 and 18 degrees Celsius on Saturday and Sunday, with the good weather expected to continue on Monday but with the chance of rain in some places and a slight drop in temperatures. Overnight temperatures will range from four to to zero degrees. And that's the news.