News Saturday, FEBRUARY 20th, 1999

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

The American and British embassies have remained closed for a second day, with the only sign of activity coming from small groups of policemen guarding them. The embassies were closed on Thursday due to an unspecified terrorist threat, widely interpreted as being something connected with the capture of Kurdish Workers' Party leader Abdullah Ocalan by Turkish security forces in Kenya. But the CTK news agency has cited an unnamed source as saying that the source of the threat is Iraq. The Czech minister responsible for the security services, Jaroslav Basta, declined to confirm or deny either theory. "It has only been said that there was a well- documented and credible plan to mount a terrorist attack on the embassies," he told CTK.

The opposition leader Vaclav Klaus will not be taking part in a meeting of political parties planned by President Vaclav Havel. In a letter to Havel on Thursday, Klaus wrote that the subjects of the meeting - which included European integration, unemployment and pension reform - would be dealt with in the standard way by the government and in Parliament. Therefore, he said, there was nothing the meeting with President Havel could achieve. Other political parties have indicated that they are willing to take part in the meeting. Ivan Langer, the deputy chairman of Klaus's Civic Democratic Party, said there was no reason for Havel to play the role of a judge trying to bring political parties together.

There's been a new development in the ongoing row between the government and the church. Protestant church leader Pavel Smetana has joined a Catholic boycott of an advisory committee on church/state relations until the government removes a communist representative from it. He has also requested a meeting with the Prime Minister, Milos Zeman. Meanwhile, church sources say a meeting between Zeman and the Catholic Primate, Cardinal Miloslav Vlk, can be expected next week. But the chance of compromise remains unclear after the Culture Minister, Pavel Dostal, said the composition of the committee would remain unchanged.

The former Slovak leader Vladimir Meciar has written to Czech Premier Milos Zeman denying reports that the Slovak secret service sought to undermine Czech efforts to join NATO. "I declare on my honour and conscience," he wrote, "that the Slovak government did not work against the interests of the Czech Republic - particularly since we had the same interests." The new head of Slovakia's secret service, the SIS, told a closed session of the Bratislava Parliament recently that the organisation had worked to discredit both the Czech Republic and Hungary in order to prevent NATO expansion. Meanwhile, Czech minister Jaroslav Basta has said the Prague government knew all along that Meciar's secret servie was working against Czech interests.

A unique exhibition of 120 Orthodox icons has opened at the museum of Olomouc, in the north-east of the Czech Republic. The icons were all stolen from Russia and Ukraine, but were seized by Czech customs during attempts to smuggle them through this country and on to markets in Western Europe. A lack of records in the countries of origin make it almost impossible to find their original owners.