News Saturday, FEBRUARY 06th, 1999

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

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

There's been more controversy surrounding the Czech counter- intelligence service, or BIS. The CTK news agency has cited an anonymous source who was a former agent for the service as saying that it is falling apart at the seams. The operative units are not working on anything, and are merely waiting to see what the new head of the service will do, CTK cited its source as saying. The BIS spokesman Jan Subert denied the accusations. The service has been surrounded by controversy since last week, when its director was sacked. This was followed by a leak of a British agent's identity to the media - his name and address were broadcast by Nova television.

Whatever the troubles of the intelligence service, Germany's Defence Minister Rudolf Scharping has said that the Czech army is ready for NATO membership. Scharping was speaking during a one-day visit to Prague, where he arrived after similar visits to Warsaw and Budapest. Here in Prague he held talks with President Vaclav Havel, Prime Minister Milos Zeman, and Defence Minister Vladimir Vetchy. Zeman said that during talks he had also stressed the Czech interest in future NATO membership for Slovakia. The healthy state of bilateral relations between the Czech and German armies were also underlined. Over 100 joint activities have been prepared for this year.

The press conference given by ministers Vetchy and Scharping was disturbed when a strong gust of wind smashed open a window. Strong winds have been buffetting central Europe since late on Thursday night. Winds of up to 150 km/hour were registered in the north Bohemian town of Usti nad Labem. In some areas electricity supplies were temporarily cut off, while heavy snow caused the police to close down sections of road near the German border around Karlovy Vary. In many parts of the Czech Republic, fallen trees have blocked roads, while here in Prague a car was damaged when a statue was blown onto it. Meteorologists predict the stormy weather will calm down on Saturday.

The row between the government and the Catholic church has taken another twist, with deputy prime minister Pavel Rychetsky accusing Cardinal Miloslav Vlk of being disloyal towards the Czech Republic and of communist-style behaviour. The core of the dispute, which has been running for some time now, is the government's decision to include a Communist member of Parliament on an advisory commission for a new law on churches. This has led to the Catholic church boycotting the commission. Rychetsky said no other churches had responded in this way, and that it was a habit more typical of the former communist regime to exclude certain people from debate.

One of the leading Czech industrialists of the 1990s has been dismissed from his position. Vaclav Junek, until now President of Chemapol Group, lost his position at a meeting of the board. This meants he will no longer play any role in running Chemapol, the business empire which under his leadership expanded from the pharmaceutical industry to include a whole range of other areas: including sport, tourism, and the arms trade. Junek's fall from grace was not entirely unexpected, however. The group, which employs around 15,000 people, recently went into receivership.