News Saturday, JULY 31st, 1999

Radio Prague e-news: July 31, 1999 Written/read by: Ray Furlong

Hello and welcome to Radio Prague, I am Ray Furlong and we begin with the news - first the headlines.

And now the news in more detail.

World leaders meeting in Sarejevo have pledged to rebuild the Balkans and integrate it with the rest of Europe. American President Bill Clinton, who unveiled a 700 million dollar aid package for the region, said the work begun by NATO would not be complete without an international plan for economic reconstruction. The Czech Republic was represented by President Vaclav Havel. He was due to speak at the conference but in the end lack of time meant he was unable to do so. Before arriving in Sarejevo, Havel visited the Czech SFOR contingent in Bosnia which numbers about 550 men.

The Czech National Bank has growing fears about the future of its independence, according to its vicegovernor Zdenek Tuma. The central bank is also disheartened by the fact that it has not been invited to discussions about its future status, Tuma said, speaking at a press conference. The bank has been widely criticised by leading politicians in the ruling Social Democrats and main opposition Civic Democrats, mainly over its restrictive monetary policy. The new Finance Minister, Pavel Mertlik, is also known to favour changes to the central banks status - at present its independence from political inteference is guaranteed by law, but vice-governor Tuma said he was worried that discussions about the banks future being held behind closed doors might threaten this.

The Prime Minister, Milos Zeman, has sharply rejected talk of property restitution for Czechs living abroad. "I state unequivocally," he said, "that restitution claims are out of the question." Earlier this week the Interior Minister, Vaclav Grulich, had indicated there might be a change of heart on the matter. He said the recent decision to allow exiles to regain their Czech citizenship, without losing their other citizenship, could be a step towards giving them the vote and then property restitution.

Premier Zeman has also rejected the idea of a so-called zero option in settling outstanding property disputes with Slovakia. The zero option would involve both sides writing off their claims. During his recent visit to Prague, the new Slovak President Rudolf Schuster said a "big zero" could be a solution to the dispute.