News Saturday, MAY 22nd, 1999

Radio Prague E-News Written/read by: Libor Kubik

Hello and a very warm welcome to you all from Radio Prague. I am Libor Kubik, and we start as usual with a look at the main news stories today. First the headlines.


The Czech lower house agreed on Friday to make a sweeping change to the tax code by raising the excise tax on petrol, cigarettes and alcohol and cutting income and capital gains tax rates.

The package of measures was approved by 106 votes to 81 in the 200-seat house, in a deal struck by between the Social Democrat government and two junior centre-right parties -–the Freedom Union and the Christian Democrats. It was opposed by the largest centre-right opposition Civic Democratic Party and the Communists.

The amendment will come into effect next year.


The health condition of Czech President Vaclav Havel, who was admitted to hospital on Thursday with an upper chest infection, improved on Friday but he still needs treatment with antibiotics for bronchitis.

Havel’s doctor Ilja Kotik told journalists that the president, who has been under close medical watch after a series of serious illnesses, was feeling better as a fever which developed on Thursday had receded.

Kotik said that he expected Havel to stay in hospital at least until the end of the week to prevent the development of pneumonia.

Last summer, President Havel contracted pneumonia following surgery to remove a colostomy bag which was needed after his large intestine ruptured during an Austrian holiday in April 1998.

Doctors have been regularly monitoring Havel since he had surgery to remove a small malignant tumour from his lungs in late 1996.


The Czech crown – post-Communist Europe’s most heavily traded currency – firmed slightly on Friday after better-than-expected April trade data.

But analysts said the currency gains were limited because of lingering worries over President Havel’s health.


A group of seven Czech volunteer aid workers will arrive in the Albanian capital Tirana on Saturday to help organise camps for Kosovo refugees. The volunteers have been selected from hundreds of applicants by the People in Need foundation, attached to Czech Television.

The group consists of four women and three men aged between 25 and 30. It includes a translator, paramedic and a car repair man.

The People in Need foundation said on Friday that its aim is to send a new group to Albania every week. The applicants should have some experience with humanitarian relief work, including those who have worked in flood-stricken areas of the Czech Republic in recent years.


The situation in Yugoslavia and solving humanitarian problems in the Balkans tops the agenda of a meeting of Central European Initiative foreign ministers, which opens on Sunday in the West Bohemian spa town of Karlovy Vary, or Carlsbad.

The 16-member regional group is expected to release a joint statement on the Kosovo crisis and to adopt a long-term aid and development programme for South East Europe, to help stabilise this region along the lines set by the European Union.

The Central European Initiative consists the Czech Republic, Hungary, Italy, Austria, all the Balkan states with the exception of Yugoslavia, and some former Soviet republics.

Meanwhile, the Czech Republic and Greece have again postponed unveiling their joint peace initiative on Kosovo, this time until Tuesday when Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan returns from a Far Eastern trip.

The idea of the joint plan, possibly to take the form of a UN resolution, is to make NATO stage a brief break in the bombing to allow Russia to endorse the UN resolution and give Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic a chance to start pulling out federal troops from Kosovo.

But Czech NATO Ambassador Karel Kovanda has questioned the value of the Czech-Greek plan by saying it probably would not be accepted by all NATO states.

Yugoslavia on Friday urged a halt to NATO bombings as a precondition for a political settlement of the crisis.


Czech Trade and Industry Minister Miroslav Gregr has severely criticised Austria’s decision to outline a plan of actions to stop the launching of the Temelin nuclear power plant in South Bohemia, close to the Czech-Austrian border.

The Czech Social Democratic government voted earlier this week in favour of completing the plant, which Austria considers a safety risk, and which is opposed by environmental groups in both countries.

Gregr said in Nicosia during Friday’s visit to Cyprus that the Austrian decision goes far beyond the limits of standard diplomatic relations.

Austria’s parliament on Wednesday called on the government in Vienna to step up its campaign against Temelin at all levels.


And finally, this weekend’s weather.

Both days will be rather wet but still comparatively warm here in the Czech Republic. We expect night-time temperatures to drop to between eight and 12 degrees Celsius, and daytime highs to reach between 14 and 18 degrees.

I am Libor Kubik and that’s the end of the news. 1