News Saturday, APRIL 24th, 1999

Hello and welcome to Radio Prague. I am Ray Furlong and we start with the news - first the headlines.

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

NATO has begun its summit in Washington, to mark the 50th anniversary of the founding of the alliance, by discussing the crisis in Kosovo. The Czech Republic, which is attending a NATO summit for the first time as a member state, is represented by President Vaclav Havel. Before departing for Washington, he told journalists that the summit would not be totally overshadowed by Kosovo - and would also be dealing with issues such as the future role of the alliance. Meanwhile, in Prague, the government has welcomed peace proposals allegedly put forward by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Deputy premier Pavel Rychetsky said that if Belgrade really had agreed to peacekeeping forces in Kosovo, as reported by the Russian peace envoy, the Czech government would do all it could to ensure the matter was resolved by non-military means.

As NATO leaders gathered in Washington, a parallel mini-summit has been held in Prague to discuss the future of security in central Europe. But again, talk was mainly of Kosovo. Richard Allen, the former national security advisor to Ronald Reagan, told the conference that America was also deeply divided by the Kosovo crisis. But he added that Slobodan Milosevic must not be allowed to win - sentiments echoed by the former Czech foreign minister Josef Zieleniec, who stressed the importance of NATO for defending the values of Western democracy.

Premier Milos Zeman has arrived back in Prague after a week- long visit to Russia and three central Asian republics: Kahzahkstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgystan. The trip focused primarily on economic issues, with Zeman telling Czech Radio before departing from Kyrgystan that a number of joint projects had been agreed on. However, Zeman also discussed the Kosovo crisis in Moscow, agreeing with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov on the need for a diplomatic solution. Debt was another key issue, with Kahzakstan undertaking to draw up a new plan for repaying its debt to the Czech Republic.

The Czech police have announced busting a gang which smuggled illegal immigrants through the Czech Republic and into the European Union. A total of 41 gang members were arrested in the action, codenamed Operation Tornado. Most of them were seized early on Friday morning, in border areas. Two gang members were Czech border officials.

Czech police said the gang had made almost 3.5 million dollars since they began operating in 1994, and had illegally transported almost 50,000 migrants across Czech borders.

Police spokeswoman Ivana Moosova said the operation had hit all levels of the gang, from the main organisors to the lowest levls - such as guides and drivers. They could now face sentences of up to ten years in prison.

And finally, writer Premysl Svora has welcomed the decision by President Vaclav Havel to drop a lawsuit against him for his book "Seven Weeks that Shook the Castle," which contained salacious allegations about the private life of Havel and his wife Dagmar. Svora said a court case would only have damaged the President, and insisted that his book was eighty percent true and twenty percent literary invention. In a written statement, Havel said he was scrapping the lawsuit against Svora, two newspapers and the Nova television station, because he had more important things to deal with at the present time. However, he insisted he had been right to bring the lawsuit and said the affair had illustrated the "poverty" of the Czech tabloid media.