News Saturday, MARCH 25th, 2000

Now the news in more detail.

Zeman strives to keep Justice Minister in place...

The Prime Minister, Milos Zeman, has voiced hope that he´ll be able to pursuade his disgruntled Justice Minister Otakar Motejl to stay in his post. Mr. Motejl had confirmed on Thursday evening that he was considering leaving the cabinet because he felt his wide-ranging reforms of the justice system were being blocked in Parliament. However, Mr. Zeman said that while understanding the minister´s disappointment he did not regard what he called "partial defeats" to be a reason for resignation. He also described Mr. Motejl as one of the best members of his cabinet.

... and announces Cabinet newcomers

Earlier, Mr. Zeman named two new faces in his cabinet. He said MP Jaroslav Schling will be appointed Minister of Transport, and that Petr Lachnit - a deputy chairman of Mr. Zeman´s Social Democratic Party - will be Minister for Regional Development. It´s still not clear who will be the new Interior Minister: Chief State Attorney Marie Benesova told reporters she had turned down an offer to take the job, which would have made her the first woman in the cabinet. Meanwhile, 27-year-old Karel Brezina started work as the new Minister Without Portfolio - the youngest ever Czech cabinet minister.

Komercni banka sues BCL Trading

The Czech state-owned bank Komercni, which has suffered record losses of several hundred million dollars, has announced a lawsuit in Vienna against Austrian company BCL Trading. The bank alleges that BCL has not been making repayments on accreditive deals struck with it. A spokesman for Komercni said it was hoping the case would be a precedent allowing the bank to recover other debts from BCL. The losses at Komercni sent shockwaves through the banking community and the Czech Finance Minister, Pavel Mertlik, said its entire management would be replaced.

Havel voices concern over unsolved economic crimes

Czech President Vaclav Havel has said that 17 large banking scandals have still not been solved and that this is undermining public confidence in democracy. He was speaking after meeting with Chief State Attorney Marie Benesova. However, Mrs. Benesova said the reason for the lack of success in dealing with economic crime was not lack of political will - but rather that crime fighters in all fields of the justice system had been unprepared for it.

No progress in talks with Chechens

Talks with Chechen refugees holed up at the UNHCR headquarters in Prague continued for a second day without any progress. The group of about 20 Chechens prepared for another night in the building that they first entered on Wednesday night after leaving a refugee camp north of Prague, saying they´d been threatened by Russian-speaking men. They have so far rejected offers to be accomodated at a different refugee camp or be returned home.

Compensation for Czech wartime slave workers

Around 80,000 Czechs stand to benefit from Thursday´s deal on compensation for wartime slave workers in Nazi Germany, according to the chief Czech negotiator at the Berlin talks Jiri Sitler. He said as yet there was no precise figure, but that even if there were more claims each of the victims could count on getting an average of 4,000 Deutschmarks compensation. Meanwhile the Confederation of Liberated Political Prisoners, an organisation which keeps records of Nazi victims, said it had already sent out questionares to determine claims. The first payments should be made by the end of the year.

Ostrava steel region facing disaster ?

The heads of labour exchanges in Ostrava have warned that the region could face an economic disaster if its steel industry is allowed to collapse. The north Moravian region is already one of the country´s most depressed areas. The Czech Republic´s largest steelmaker, Nova hut, together with Vitkovice, another huge enterprise in the region, employ around 25,000 people. Both companies have encountered serious difficulties in recent months: Nova hut ended 1999 with losses of almost three billion crowns, while problems at Vitkovice have meant workers getting their wages late several times. One official said unemployment in the region could rise from the current 17 percent to as high as 27 percent.