News Saturday, JANUARY 08th, 2000

Written/read by: Ray Furlong

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

Now the news in more detail.


Talks between the ruling Social Democrats and the main opposition Civic Democratic Party (or ODS) ended with neither side revealing any details about what was discussed. The meeting came ahead of a parliamentary debate on the state budget for the year 2000, and it was expected the ODS would demand ministerial changes in exchange for allowing the budget to pass. The ODS budget spokesman, Vlastimil Tlusty, said half the cabinet were "ripe for replacement." But at a news conference after the talks, Prime Minister Milos Zeman would only say the two sides had discussed areas of mutual interest. Party leaders said further talks would follow. The ODS has been keeping the Social Democrat government in power since July 1998, under a power-sharing deal dubbed the "Opposition Agreement."


Premier Zeman has apologised to the former foreign minister, Josef Zieleniec, over allegations of bribery. Mr. Zeman and the current foreign minister, Jan Kavan, alleged last year that Mr. Zieleniec had bribed journalists while in office - but they have failed to produce the proof that they promised at the time. Minister Kavan already apologised on Thursday. Premier Zeman said that after studying a report on the matter, he joined Mr. Kavan´s apology. He also ruled out the possibility of either his or Mr. Kavan´s resignation over the affair.


A tenth round of wage negotiations between unions and management at the Skoda Auto factory in Mladá Boleslav, central Bohemia, have failed to result in agreement. Union leaders continue to reject a pay rise of one percent which is on offer, and are maintaining a ban on overtime. Further talks are scheduled for Monday, with unions threatening indefinite strike action if agreement isn´t reached. Skoda was sold to Germany´s Volkswagen Group in the 1990s, and in recent years has emerged as one of the most important enterprises in the Czech economy - totally revitalising the image of the Skoda.


The former finance minister, Ivo Svoboda, has been released from a prison hospital in Prague and is now back at the remand centre where he is being held in custody. Svoboda was arrested in late November on charges of embezzlement at a company producing baby carriages where he was previously a member of the management. Earlier he had been forced out of the cabinet owing to the scandal. He had been taken to the hospital after suffering a nervous breakdown on December 27th. Remand centre officials said Mr. Svoboda was now in good health.


The Czech Hussite Church celebrates the 80th anniversary of its existence this weekend, with a jubilee synod. The Church was established by Catholic Priests who wanted to rehabilitate the legacy of Jan Hus - also known as John Hus in the English-speaking world - who was burnt at the stake in 1415. Their main demands were liturgy in the vernacular, participation of lay people in running the Church, and making celibacy for priests a voluntary issue. Since then they have become the 3rd largest Church in the country, after the Catholic and Protestant churches. The jubilee synod begins with mass at the St. Nicholas Church in central Prague and a laying of wreaths at the monument to Jan Hus on Prague´s Old Town Square.


And finally the weekend weather: we can expect clouds and fog over much of the country, along with sleet or light snow - although skies may clear in some places. Saturday temperatures between zero and four degrees Celsius, falling to as little as minus four overnight. Sunday will be a bit colder, with temperatures between minus two and two degrees. And that´s the news.