News Saturday, JULY 29th, 2000

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European Central Bank criticizes new Czech law

The European Central Bank has described newly approved changes to the law on the Czech National Bank as a potential threat to the bank's independence. In an unofficial statement, quoted by the Czech News Agency, the European Bank says that some clauses are also inconsistent with European Union regulations. The statement echoes criticism voiced on Thursday by the head of the EU Commission delegation in Prague, Romano Cibrian. The main focus of criticism is a clause that divides the bank's budget into two parts, one of which has to be approved directly by Parliament.

Latvian President in Prague

The legacy of communism is the most serious hurdle on the path to joining the European Union. That was the conclusion of a meeting in Prague between Prime Minister, Milos Zeman, and the Latvian President, Vaira Vike-Freiberga. Their statement re-iterated the conclusions of EU Commissioner for enlargement Guenter Verheugen, who earlier this week pointed to the continuing influence of former prominent communists in Central and Eastern Europe. After talks with the Latvian President, the chairwoman of the Czech Senate, Libuse Benesova, said that said that Latvia can count on full Czech support for its ambitions to join NATO. The Czech President, Vaclav Havel, recently described the Baltic States as the prime candidates for the next round of NATO enlargement.

Police Chief denies that child prostitution is widespread

The Czech Police chief, Jiri Kolar, has denied claims made in a German magazine and on German television that child prostitution is widespread in the Czech Republic. Recent television pictures showed children near the town of Cheb offering themselves as prostitutes to German tourists. But Mr Kolar said that a special police unit sent to the area to investigate had found no evidence for child prostitution on a large scale, either in Cheb or in other parts of the country.

Army at IMF meeting

The Interior Minister, Stanislav Gross, has said that the Czech Army will not be used directly to help keep order during September's Prague meeting of the IMF and World Bank. He said they will only serve to provide equipment for the police force. He added that 1600 soldiers will be helping the police, but that they will nearly all be stationed outside the city and will be unarmed. He firmly denied accusations that the ministry was being too heavy-handed, amid fears of a repeat of last year's violent protests in Seattle.

Poll shows confidence in the government increasing

An opinion poll published by the Institute for Public Opinion Research suggests that public faith in the government is rising. According to the poll a third of Czechs have confidence in Milos Zeman's cabinet, nearly twice the number in a similar poll last November. The institute attributes the change to the gradual recovery of the Czech economy and to a general calming on the Czech political scene.

Kidnapper was Czech

It has been confirmed that a man shot dead by a Greek special commando unit after taking a number of people hostage on a yacht was the Czech citizen Frantisek Vesely. The Czech Consul in Athens said that relatives had helped to identify the man, who on Wednesday hijacked the yacht along with its Greek captain and five members of a family from Switzerland. During the incident none of the hostages were hurt. The man's motives for the hijacking remain unclear.

Crime statistics bring good and bad news

Crime statistics for the first half of this year reveal that the number of crimes reported has fallen by over six percent. However the Interior Minister Stanislav Gross said that the cost of damage resulting from crime has increased dramatically. On an optimistic note he said that the battle against corruption within the police force is being won. He pointed to figures showing that the number of cases of corrupt officers brought to justice has risen.

Biggest steelworks cut production

The Czech Republic's biggest steelworks, Nova hut', has begun working at only 85 percent capacity in the face of serious financial difficulties. The crisis has been caused by the accumulation of old debts, which the plant is having to pay at the expense of investment into production. The government last month decided to grant Nova hut' credits of 750 million Czech crowns, to guarantee the financial stability of the plant.

Czechoslovak RAF Squadron remembered

There was a minute's silence on Friday at the military airbase in the eastern town of Namest nad Oslavou to remember Czech and Slovak airmen who died serving in the Royal Air Force's 311 Bomber Squadron during World War Two. The event was held to mark the squadron's 60th anniversary and was attended by a number of veterans. Lubomir Ulehla, who served in the squadron, said that young men had gone to fight in Britain to defend the ideals of democracy and humanism symbolized by Czechoslovakia's first President Tomas Masaryk. The 311 squadron was the second of three Czechoslovak squadrons established in Britain during the war, and served mainly over France.

Bear hunt

The hunt continues for a bear that has been causing havoc in the hills on the Czech-Slovak border. So far it has caused 140 thousand crowns worth of damage to livestock and property, and a group of experts set up to try to catch the bear have now laid down over a hundred kilogrammes of meat in the hope of luring it into a specially set up cage. Bears are rare in the Czech Republic and it is still more unusual for them to come close to places of human habitation.

Weather

And I'll end with a look at the weather. With colder air coming in for the north-west it will be a cool and showery weekend, with temperatures between 17 and 21 degrees Celsius. And we can expect the showery weather to continue into next week.