News Saturday, DECEMBER 19th, 1998

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

The Kosovo Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova has warned that a new conflict in the province could annihalate his people. Speaking at a press conference during his three-day visit to Prague, Rugova said the Kosovo Albanians were completely defenceless and could be wiped out in several days. Rugova held talks with the Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan, who told journalists that the key thing now was to work on calming down the situation in the province. Kavan said he hoped a deal could be struck on autonomy for Kosovo. Rugova has not met with any support from Czech leaders in his efforts to achieve full independence - and told journalists he had expected greater backing from President Vaclav Havel. Nevertheless, he said was not discouraged by the lack of support for an independent Kosovo and that he would continue to work for it.

The Czech Foreign Minister, Jan Kavan, has said reports that Russia's armed forces are on alert following US and British attacks on Iraq is an attempt by Moscow to recall its former superpower status. However, he added that he was not underestimating the importance of the move. The Foreign Ministry has voiced alarm over the Kremlin's decision.

President Havel has dismissed the head of his office, Ivan Medek. The move came after it was announced Medek had struck an unofficial deal with the former head of the Office for the Investigation of the Crimes of Communism, Vaclav Benda, to have secret reports made on the backgrounds of all nominees for state decorations. Benda was at the centre of the so-called Zilk affair earlier this year in which the former mayor of Vienna, Helmut Zilk, was denied a state decoration owing to claims he had worked for the communist secret police. At the time, the President's Office said nominees were not screened in any way. A government report has since absolved Zilk, but Benda still insists he had collaborated.

In a related story, the Interior Minister Vaclav Grulich has decided to give researchers at the Office for the Investigation of the Crimes of Communism access to old secret police files. Grulich had taken away their right of access shortly after the Zilk affair, and ordered an investigation into the Office's work which he said was unprofessional. But researchers rejected his claims, and said he was making their job impossible by barring their access to the files.

One of the most controversial captains of industry in the Czech Republic has held on to his position despite growing pressure on him to go. The re-election of Lubomir Soudek as chairman of the board and general director of Skoda Plzen comes after the engineering giant, one of the country's key enterprises, recorded increasingly large losses. Soudek is one of the most well-known Czech industrialists, who emerged as a high-profile success story in the early 1990s.

And finally, the Pankrac remand centre has born witness to an unusual wedding - in which an 80-year-old male inmate married a woman 40 years his junior. The man is said to be very healthy, and convinced he has another 20 years of life ahead of him. The happy couple made their vows to the deputy mayor of the borough, who said local records didn't record a marriage in such a strange location for the last two decades.