News Saturday, JANUARY 16th, 1999

Radio Prague e-news: January 15, 1999 Written/read by: Ray Furlong

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.

Parliament has approved the state budget for 1999, by 114 votes to 89. The governing Social Democrats were supported by the opposition Communist and Christian Democrat parties, while the two other opposition parties - the Civic Democrats and the Freedom Union voted against. Prime Minister Milos Zeman welcomed the result, while Civic Democrat leader Vaclav Klaus said Parliament had approved a bad budget. A Communist proposal to reduce defence spending was rejected, but other proposals from the Communists and Christian Democrats were approved - including extra investment in a Czech military aircraft project (the L-159), job creation initiatives in depressed areas, and more money for housing. The budget has a 31 billion crown deficit. But analysts warned that the real deficit could be as much as 10 billion crowns higher, making it almost three percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

The budget vote was preceeded by tough negotiating in the lobbies. But earlier in the day, members of Parliament observed a minute's silence in honour of the memory of Jan Palach - who set light to himself in protest at the Soviet occupation 30 years ago on Saturday. Professors at Charles University's Arts Faculty, where Palach studied, also marked the anniversary by laying wreaths at the small monument to his memory on Wenceslas Square. On Saturday afternoon President Havel will be attending a ceremony in Palach's home town of Vsetaty.

A three-year protocol between Slovakia and the Czech Republic has been hailed by the Czech Education Minister, Eduard Zeman, as "a rare moment when politics benefits large numbers of ordinary people." The deal enables Czech and Slovak students to study at universities in each other's countries without restraint on numbers and under the same conditions as domestic students. They will also be able to study in their own languages - which are very similar. Previously, the numbers were limited to a small number each year: 80 Czechs were allowed to study in Slovakia, and 300 places at Czech universities were available for Slovak students. Slovakia's Education Minister, Milan Ftacnik, said the new deal was "the first step towards above-standard bilateral relations."

The Czech government is considering introducing visa requirements for citizens of Ukraine, Bulgaria and Romania, according to deputy interior minister Jaroslav Kopriva. The aim is to reduce the tide of illegal migration. Almost 45,000 people illegally crossed the Czech border last year, attempting to get to the West - and the European Union has been putting pressure on the Czech government to do something. Kopriva said another part of the plan aimed against criminals who make money by illegally smuggling migrants over borders. Ministers now have ten days to consider the proposals.

And finally, being a journalist is not always easy - as Vladimir Misauer from the Czech Television station Prima can confirm. Misauer was physically attacked by the former Slovak prime minister Vladimir Meciar on Friday - at the funeral of one of Meciar's former ministers, Jan Ducky, who was shot dead outside his home earlier in the week. Meciar's attack was followed by verbal abuse from his supporters aimed at other journalists, who were then forced to run away. However, Meciar's party - the HZDS - has accused Misauer of provoking the incident.