News Saturday, DECEMBER 12th, 1998

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Welcome to Radio Prague. Those are the headlines, I'm Ray Furlong, and now the news in more detail.

The leaders of 15 European Union member states have begun a crucial summit in Vienna aimed at agreeing on internal reforms which they say must be carried out before the organisation can begin its eastward expansion. However, there was little optimism before the summit began that agreement would be reached - and the speaker of the European Parliament, Jose Maria Gil-Robes, told European leaders they were concentrating too much on haggling over their bugget contributions. He also said that new members of the Union should elect their first deputies to the European Parliament in 2004. The Czech Prime Minister, Milos Zeman, is among other east European heads of government joining the EU leaders for lunch on Saturday.

Milos Zeman has met with the opposition leader, Vaclav Klaus, the central bank governor, Josef Tosovsky, and the head of the trade union movement, Richard Falbr - to discuss ways at overcoming the current problems in the Czech economy. The meeting was initiated by Vaclav Klaus, who said it was necessary to reconsider the priorities of economic policy - with less stress on the fight against inflation and more emphasis on growth. However, critics have suggested the meeting was really aimed at reducing the independence of the central bank and putting pressure on it to reduce interest rates. Union leader Richard Falbr said the current problems were not caused by the bank's interest-rate policy, but had far deeper roots.

About 300 mourners turned out at the funeral of general Antonin Liska, who died recently at the age of 87. Liska fought for Britain's Royal Air Force during the war, but like many Czechs who fought on the Western front he was subsequently faced discrimination from the communist regime. Nevertheless, he produced a number of well-known books on his experiences, including "Fighters over the Channel" and "Shadows on the Sky." At his funeral, which was with full military honours, a former comrade praised Liska's great personal courage - and also recalled his miraculous escape from an exploding Spitfire during the Battle of Britain.

The local council in Lety, south Bohemia, has called for an independent commission of historians to assess the legacy of the concentration camp that stood there during the war. Several hundred inmates, mostly Romanies, died at the camp - and an enormous pig farm now stands on the site. Last week Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal and German novelist Gunter Grass joined a campaign calling for the removal of the farm, by signing an open letter to the Czech government. In reaction to the letter, the council in Lety now says that if the pig farm is moved it must stay in the locality because it is an important source of local employment.

And to round off with the weather outlook for the weekend: Saturday will be bright and sunny - but also bitterly cold, with temperatures between minus two and minus six degrees Celsius. During the night it will be between minus ten and minus 15. On Sunday skies will cloud over, and rain or snow showers are expected. But it will be a bit warmer, with daytime temperatures around zero, dropping to about minus five overnight.

And that's the news.