News Saturday, JULY 15th, 2000

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Changes to the Czech National Bank

The lower house of the Czech parliament has passed an amendment that opponents say will seriously limit the independence of the Czech National Bank. The change means that the bank will be obliged to consult its inflation targets and exchange rate policy with the government. The way that the bank's board of governors is appointed will also change, strengthening the government at the expense of the president. All MPs from the two largest parties, the Social and Civic Democrats voted for the amendment, and after the vote the Civic Democrat leader Vaclav Klaus denied claims that the move was motivated by his long-standing personal rivalry with the bank's governor, Josef Tosovsky. The Prime Minister Milos Zeman gave assurances that the bank's autonomy was not under threat, but smaller opposition parties have condemned the amendment, with some saying that it is unconstitutional and against European Union standards. To become law the amendment still has to be passed by the upper house of parliament and signed by the president.

Sanctions

The United States has introduced trade sanctions on steel imports from a number of countries, including South Korea and the Czech Republic. The US International Trade Committee ruled that imports of some steel products from these countries are undermining the interests of domestic producers. Most seriously affected among Czech companies will be the steelworks Nova Hut, which will find itself facing extra export duties of nearly forty percent. But a spokeswoman for the company, said that it will not be difficult to find replacement markets.

German upper house approves compensation

The upper house of the German parliament has given its unanimous support to a bill passed by the lower house last week, under which people sent to Germany as forced labour during World War Two are to receive compensation. The speed at which the bill has gone through parliament, just before the summer break, offers hope that former forced labourers will see some of the money before the end of this year. Between sixty and seventy thousand Czech citizens will be entitled to payment, and are likely to receive a total figure of over four hundred million German marks.

Prime Minister puts his weight behind Temelin

The Czech Prime Minister, Milos Zeman, has again stressed that he is fully in favour of putting the Temelin nuclear power plant into operation. To reinforce his message Mr Zeman said that, under his government, construction of Temelin has managed to keep to schedule for the first time in the plant's troubled history. Temelin is now complete and nuclear fuel is being introduced, amid strong protests from environmentalists. The German Environment Minister Juergen Trittin, has added his voice to the protestors, telling a German paper that it would be sensible from both an environmental and economic point of view to scrap the plant. On Friday afternoon a Temelin spokesman said that the process of loading the first reactor was now complete.

Jehovah's Witnesses

Nearly seven thousand Jehovah's Witnesses from all over the Czech Republic have gathered in the city of Ostrava for a three-day assembly. A spokesman said that the assembly is focusing on putting the words of the Bible into practice. There are around sixteen-and-a-half thousand Jehovah's Witnesses registered in the Czech Republic, and until the fall of communism in 1989 their activities were strictly banned.

Weather

And a quick look at the weather over the weekend.... Summer seems to have abandoned us: it will be cold and wet all weekend, with showers and more persistent rain, and temperatures between 13 and 18 degrees Celsius, well below average for this time of year.