News Saturday, NOVEMBER 18th, 2000

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By Libor Kubik

Czechs mark two crucial anniversaries

Czechs remembered two important events in their history on Friday. One was the closing of Czech universities in 1939 after massive anti-Nazi protests in the German- occupied Czechoslovakia. And 11 years ago, Communist police in Prague used force to break up a peaceful student rally in support of democratic change, leaving hundreds of young people wounded. The incident triggered Czechoslovakia's Velvet Revolution in which its communist regime was ousted.

President Havel and other officials laid wreaths on Friday at the memorial to students attending the protest rally 11 years ago. In some parts of the country, rallies were held by citizens who say they are disillusioned by the slow pace of democratic reform.

A solemn act was held on the World War II execution ground in Prague, where nine leaders of the 1939 protest were shot dead.

ForMin says Prague ready for fresh talks on Temelin

Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan has said Prague is ready to discuss Austrian safety concerns over a controversial nuclear reactor, but ruled out shutting the plant down.

Mr Kavan said he believed that the row between the two neighbours over the Temelin power station could be solved by the end of the year. He said bilateral talks on the issue were slated for December 11 in Austria.

Austrian environmentalists have repeatedly set up border blockades to protest against the plant near their borders, which they say is unsafe and should be shut down.

On Thursday, talks slated in Brussels to negotiate Prague's bid to join the EU were postponed at Vienna's request in what diplomats described as an unprecedented incident.

Czech govt. party faces thrashing in Senate vote

Czechs go to the polls on Sunday for a runoff vote to elect one third of the upper house of parliament, with the ruling Social Democrats appearing headed for disaster.

The Social Democrats, whose minority cabinet has ruled the country since 1998, have only five candidates in the second round of the vote to pick 27 Senators for the 81-seat house.

A midweek poll showed that Prime Minister Milos Zeman's ruling party may not retake even one of the nine seats it held going into the first round of balloting last Sunday.

A poor showing by the Social Democrats, underpinned by very low expected voter turnout, will likely kill attempts to cut back the president's powers, but is not seen shaking the government.

Havel not to comment on Communist gains

President Vaclav Havel has declined to comment on the growing influence of the largely-unreformed Czech Communist Party and its alleged rapprochement with the ruling Social Democrats.

There have been persistent reports that the weakened Social Democrats are making overtures to the party which claims succession to the old Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, whose government was toppled 11 years ago.

Mr Havel said he was receiving conflicting reports on the situation and would withhold any comment for the time being.

Sources have said that Social Democrat leader Milos Zeman's meeting with Communist chief Miroslav Grebenicek earlier this month was preceded by a meeting with a regional Communist leader at Mr Zeman's request.

Czech weather report

Saturday will be a cloudy day with scattered showers and some snowfalls in the mountains. Early morning lows between freezing and plus four Celsius, daytime highs from four to eight degrees above zero.