News Saturday, JANUARY 27th, 2001

By: Vladimir Tax

Cuba provides Czech Republic with official information

Cuba has officially informed the Czech Republic of the reasons for the arrest of two Czechs by Cuban police. The Cuban Foreign Ministry has handed over documents to the Czech charge d'affaires in Havana, Josef Marsicek, explaining why Czechs Ivan Pilip and Jan Bubenik were detained in Cuba more than two weeks ago. The Czech Foreign Ministry said the act meant a renewal of official communications between Cuba and the Czech Republic. Until now, Cuba have not reacted at all to Czech protest notes and demands for an explanation. Cuban authorities say the two Czechs possessed CD-ROMS and floppy discs with an itinerary of their journey, addresses of Cuban dissidents and messages they were supposed to communicate to them. The Cuban charge d'affaires in Prague, David Paulovich, said earlier there would be no further talks between the two countries until the Czech Republic apologised for what he described as the two men's "anti-regime" activities. Leading Czech state officials have refused to do so.

Law on foreigners to be improved

The Lower House of Parliament has passed an amendment to the foreigners law, which addresses some administrative obstacles faced by foreigners with permanent residence in the Czech Republic. Under the new law, the state will pay health insurance for children of foreigners with permanent residence in the Czech Republic. Until now, they had to pay healthcare facilities directly for their children's treatment, even though they had health insurance themselves. In several cases, foreigners whose newborn children had serious health problems, owe large sums of money to maternity hospitals, sometimes up to hundreds of thousands of Czech Crowns.

Senior opposition party demands resignation of finance minister

The senior opposition Civic Democratic Party has called on the Minister of Finance, Pavel Mertlik to resign over guarantees his ministry provided to the bank CSOB bank, for the liabilities of IPB bank. CSOB took over IPB a few days after the Czech National Bank imposed forced administration on IPB last June. Now, the state may have to pay up to 180 billion CZK, which is nearly a third of size of this year's state budget. The Civic Democrats have also asked for details of the deal between the government and CSOB to be publicized. Mr. Mertlik refused to step down and accused the Civic Democrats of misleading the public, explaining that the actual sum the treasury will have to pay to CSOB will be around a half of the total guarantee.

The opposition Four-party coalition have backed Mr. Mertlik, saying that the former ruling Civic Democratic Party is responsible for IPB's massive losses.

Early retirement made tougher

The Lower House of Parliament has adopted measures to curb the increase in the number of people who take early retirement. An amendment to the pension law stipulates that those who opt for early retirement will receive significantly lower pensions. The phenomenon has worried the government because those who retire earlier now outnumber those who remain at work until retirement, which represents an immense burden for the state budget.

Weather forecast

And finally, the weather forecast. We are expecting a rather cloudy day with scattered rain or snow showers. The highest daytime temperatures should range from 1 to 5 degrees Celsius. Sunday should also be cloudy with showers of sleet, with afternoon highs up to 5 degrees Celsius.