News Saturday, DECEMBER 11th, 1999

Radio Prague e-news: December 10, 1999 Written/read by: Ray Furlong

Hello and welcome to the programme. I´m Ray Furlong and we begin with a bulletin of news. First the headlines.

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


European Union leaders gathering for their twice-yearly summit in Helsinki have given Czech politicians hoping to join the 15-nation bloc in 2003 a cold shower - saying internal reforms must come first. Correspondents say that makes the earliest possible date for expansion one year later. The Czech government, like those in some other candidate countries such as Poland, has made 2003 its target date for membership. But its not all bad news. EU expansion commissioner Gunter Verheugen told journalists in Helsinki that this weekend´s summit would approve a new strategy for bringing in new members that would make the conditions much clearer for candidate states.


The Czech Foreign Ministry has called on Russia to halt its offensive in Chechenya, saying it is concerned by violation of human rights in the country. The Ministry said the Czech Republic supported actions against terrorists - but that they had to be led by the police and conclude with court proceedings. Earlier, around two hundred people took part in a demonstration in front of the Russian embassy in Prague, calling for an end to what they said were the massacres taking place in the Caucasian republic and a negotiated political solution to the conflict. Meanwhile, the lower house of the Czech Parliament rejected a resolution condemning Russia´s actions - but a petition signed by 69 deputies was taken to the embassy by opposition Freedom Union MP Petr Mareš.


President Václav Havel has apologised to the former foreign minister, Josef Zieleniec, for accusations made by Prime Minister Miloš Zeman and current Foreign Minister Jan Kavan. They accused the former minister of bribing journalists when in office, but have not produced any proof. President Havel said he felt responsible for Zeman and Kavan´s words, because he had sworn them into office. Both Zeman and Kavan said they respected the president´s right to apologise - but neither have retracted their allegations.


The lower house of Parliament has called on the government to deal with the growing number of enterprises not paying their workers. It´s estimated as many as 70,000 people in the Czech Republic receive their wages late or not at all from companies that are having financial difficulties. The parliamentary appeal came after a four-hour debate on a report put forward by the government on measures it´s taking to tackle the problem. Prime Minister Miloš Zeman said new laws would be submitted to Parliament next year, allowing employees to receive money from their local labour office if their company was unable to pay them. He also said the government would seek out foreign partners for companies in trouble.


The leader of the main opposition Civic Democratic Party, or ODS, has written an open letter to the prime minister calling on him to stop pretending his government is a successful one. In the letter, Klaus said talks on forming a new government must continue. These talks, initiated by Klaus a few weeks ago, have so far been fruitless. Premier Zeman described Klaus´s letter as a dangerous threat to the power sharing agreement between their two parties, under which the ODS gets key parliamentary posts in exchange for allowing Zeman´s Social Democrats to rule.


And finally the weekend weather - we can expect cloudy skies and rain in places, with also the chance of snow in the mountains. Saturday temperatures between three and seven degrees Celsius, falling to zero or slightly below overnight. Sunday a bit warmer - between five and nine degrees. And that´s the news.