News Saturday, MARCH 06th, 1999

Hello and welcome to Radio Prague. I'm Ray Furlong and we begin with the news headlines.

Those are the headlines. Now the news in more detail.

Finance Minister to give evidence

The Finance Minister, Ivo Svoboda, is to give evidence to the police next week about a growing scandal surrounding a company he was involved in. The scandal concerns the Liberta company, which produced babies' prams. Svoboda's advisor, Barbora Snopkova, resigned on Thursday after being charged with breaking the law during the liquidation of the firm - there are suspicions its assets were transferred to another company jointly owned by her and Svoboda. Earlier, Svoboda denied reports he was about to resign over the allegations - and he has also said he is sure Snopkova will be vindicated of any wrongdoing.

Drnovsek wants to mediate in Kosovo

The Slovenian Prime Minister, Januz Drnovsek, has said his country wants to play the role of a stabilisor in negotiations over the future of Kosovo. Drnovsek was speaking during talks with President Vaclav Havel, which mainly focused on the troubled Serbian province. "We have good relations with Kosovo," he said, "and therefore have plenty of opportunities to negotiate with both sides of the dispute." Both men agreed on the need for a NATO ground presence in Kosovo, and President Havel repeated the calls he made in Paris earlier this week for an international peace conference to be held in the province which would also include Albania and Macedonia.

EU says expansion date depends on progress by candidates

The date for European Union expansion depends above all on the progress made by candidates for membership, according to European Commission spokesman Nico Wegter - who was speaking in reaction to a call made on Thursday by President Havel for an expansion date finally to be set. Wegter said the crucial moment would be the EU's October report examining the progress made by candidate states, and he added that the question of setting a date for enlargement of the 15-nation bloc would be dealt with during the Finnish presidency in the second half of this year.


A new book written by the head of the Czechoslovak chemical detection unit which served in the Gulf War, Jan Valo, has been released. At a press conference launching the book, Desert Fever, the head of the Czech Gulf veterans' association Petr Zelinsky said it alleged that the allied commander in the Gulf, General Norman Schwarzkopf, ordered the Czechoslovak unit to hush up its findings of nerve gas in the atmosphere. Since the Gulf War the Pentagon has acknowledged that the reports made by the Czechoslovak unit were credible, and also that allied troops were exposed to nerve gas. But it has remained unclear why the unit's reports were ignored and who was responsible for this.


The government's special envoy for human rights, Petr Uhl, believes that cultural autonomy for ethnic minorities should be enshrined in Czech law. Uhl, who was speaking after a meeting of the government's ethnic minorities commission, said that special organs should be elected by members of ethnic minorities to govern their cultural affairs - as is the case in Hungary - and he added that he would be making a fact-finding visit to Hungary later this month. The Czech Republic must approve a new law on ethnic minorities after signing up to an international framework agreement in April last year.


And finally, the weekend weather - skies will be cloudy with scattered showers on Saturday, and there will be morning fog in some areas. Temperatures will be between three and seven degrees Celsius, falling to zero degrees overnight. Sunday will see similar conditions, although it may brighten up in some places. Overnight temperatures will drop to between zero and minus four.