News Saturday, MAY 29th, 1999

Hello and a warm welcome to the programme. I'm David Vaughan. First the headlines.

And now the news in more detail.

Havel's health improving

President Havel's doctors have said that his health has improved significantly, following a bronchial infection he contracted last week. Doctors said they had managed to prevent the infection from developing into pneumonia, but added that the Mr Havel would remain on antiobiotics until the end of the week. All the President's engagements have been cancelled until the fifth of June. He has been under close medical supervision ever since having a malignant tumour removed from his lung two years ago.

Salaries rise faster than inflation

Official figures for the first quarter of this year reveal that wages in the Czech Republic are continuing to rise faster than inflation. In most sectors of the economy the average monthly wage is 11,366 crowns, a little over 300 US dollars. After taking inflation into consideration, this marks a net increase over the past year of around five percent. In response to the figures a number of financiers have warned that many firms are paying higher salaries than they can afford, and that this could destabilise the economy. They say that the higher salaries are not being matched by an increase in productivity. At the same time, the figures indicate that wage levels in the private sector are increasing at a lower level than in recent years, a trend which has been welcomed by the Czech National Bank.

US Congressman welcomes Czech government decision

The chairman of the US Congress's branch of the Helsinki Committee for human rights has welcomed the Czech government's decision not to support the building of a controversial wall in the town of Usti nad Labem. The local authority has faced accusations of racism due to its plans to build a wall that would separate a housing estate lived in mainly by members of the Romany minority from privately owned houses on the other side of the street. Congressman Christopher Smith, who has played a prominent role in drawing international attention to the controversy, said that the cabinet had shown courage and leadership in condemning the town council's plans. He warned that Usti nad Labem was in danger of becoming well known not for its tourist attractions, but as a symbol of growing racism. Local politicians have continued to defend the wall, accusing the government of failing to understand the complexities of the situation on the ground.

Opposition party rallies to support government over Kosovo

The leadership of the largest opposition party, the right-of-centre Civic Democrats, has rallied behind the government in the wake of criticism of a joint Czech-Greek initiative to find a breakthrough in the Kosovo crisis. Civic Democratic party leaders, headed by former Prime Minister, Vaclav Klaus, issued a statement saying that the initiative was a sign that the Czech Republic was acting as a full and active member of NATO, willing to come forward with its own opinions and proposals. But the party does also criticise the initiative, saying that it was destined to failure from the start, because it proposes a temporary suspension of NATO airstrikes even before Serbia begins withdrawing troops from Kosovo./ Other right-of-centre opposition parties have already condemned the proposal outright, saying that it only serves to reinforce divisions within NATO.

Good news at last for engineering giant

The beleagured Prague-based engineering giant, CKD, has received some good news, after many weeks on the brink of bankruptcy. The export insurance company EGAP has approved a 340 million crown loan that will enable CKD to complete a long-standing order to supply trams for the Philippine capital, Manila. EGAP said that it will keep tight control on how the money is used. Due to the current crisis at CKD many workers have not been paid for several months.

Czech Social Democrat supports candidate in Slovak elections

A prominent member of parliament for the ruling Social Democrats has become the first major Czech politician to offer a direct opinion on the presidential elections under way this weekend in neighbouring Slovakia. Lubomir Zaoralek, who chairs the Czech parliament's foreign affairs committee said that he fully supported the candidate put forward by the ruling Slovak coalition, Rudolf Schuster. He added that he hoped former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar would be soundly defeated, as any other result would lead to a continuation of political instability in Slovakia. He also criticised the Czech opposition leader, Vaclav Klaus, who he said had sympathised Mr Meciar's campaign.


And I'll end with a look at the weather for the weekend. Saturday will be another hot day, with temperatures as high 30 degrees Celsius. It will be bright, but with occasional thunderstorms. We'll have more of the same on Sunday, with further showers by the evening, and we can expect it to remain hot well into next week.

And that's the end of the news.