News Saturday, OCTOBER 07th, 2000

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By: Kazi Stastna

Tony Blair calls for quicker accession talks with EU candidates

The Czech prime minister, Milos Zeman, has welcomed British Prime Minister Tony Blair's calls for speeding up accession talks with candidates for European Union membership. Mr Blair made the comments at a meeting with representatives of the Visegrad four countries in Warsaw, Poland. The British Prime Minister stressed that a breakthrough in accession negotiations must be made in the first half of next year, during the Swedish presidency of the Union. Although Mr Blair cited 2004 as the year that new members should be voting in the European Parliament elections, Prime Minister Zeman stressed that the Czech Republic still has its sights set on 2003 as the date of entry.

Austrian opponents of Temelin end border blockade

Austrian opponents of the Temelin nuclear power plant have ended their blockade of the Czech-Austrian-border. In the fifth and largest border blockade to date, Austrians blocked all crossings along the Czech-Austrian border in South Moravia from early morning on Friday. Blockades at three of the crossings were to continue into Saturday but were not approved by Austrian authorities. In an open letter to Czech citizens and officials, Austrian environmentalists, Green Party representatives and regional and federal politicians have renewed their calls for the postponement of the activation of Temelin and a re-evaluation of the entire project.

State Nuclear Safety Office likely to approve first fuel activation on Monday

The State Nuclear Safety Office has said that it will likely give the go-ahead for the activation of fuel in the first reactor of the Temelin nuclear power plant on Monday. The power utility CEZ today requested permission to begin activating fuel in the plant. At a press conference in Cesky Krumlov in South Bohemia, several Czech environmental groups asked the chairwoman of the Nuclear Safety Office, Dana Drabova, to not approve the launch until the completion of an environmental impact assessment.

Social Democrats threaten to break "opposition agreement" over fuel tax cuts

The governing Social Democrats have threatened to break their power-sharing agreement with the Civic Democrats should the latter support efforts to lower fuel tax. The chairman of the Social Democrats' parliamentary caucus, Zdenek Skromach, made the announcement at a press conference, referring to the efforts of some opposition MPs to push through a decrease in fuel tax. According to Mr Skromach, the Social Democrats are willing to discuss a fuel tax cut but not one that would come into force next year.

Lorry drivers demand meeting with Finance Minister

Unions representing Czech lorry drivers have demanded a meeting with the Finance Minister, Pavel Mertlik, by Wednesday of next week to discuss the current crisis situation in road transport. Drivers are dissatisfied with negotiations led so far with the Transport Minister, Jaromir Schling. Mr Schling was to react by today to the drivers' proposals for resolving rising fuel prices, which were submitted last week and include price regulation as well as cuts in road tax and highway fees, but has requested more time to assess the proposals. Drivers have threatened protests if an agreement with the government is not reached by the end of October.

Opposition criticises proposed CEZ privatisation

Opposition members in the Lower House have criticised the method of privatisation of the energy sector approved by the government this week. Members from the Civic Democratic Party and the Freedom Union have disapproved of the government's decision to sell the state share in the power utility CEZ and power distribution companies together as one unit. The opposition has alleged that this manner of privatising the energy sector would serve monopoly rather than consumer interests. The Freedom Union has also attacked the government's consideration to offer mines to the same investor interested in purchasing CEZ and the distribution companies.

Senator Vaclav Fischer to fund independent candidates in Nov. elections

The popular independent senator Vaclav Fischer has established a fund to support the campaigns of independent candidates in the upcoming November Senate elections. Mr Fischer, who was voted into the Upper House by a wide margin in August 1999, has given one million crowns to the fund, which he hopes will encourage and ease the entry of independent politicians into the Senate. Mr Fischer will also support independent candidates by attending campaign rallies.

250 demonstrators protest peacefully in front of Israeli Embassy in Prague

Some 250 people have demonstrated peacefully in front of the Israeli Embassy in Prague. The demonstrators, primarily Palestinians living in the Czech Republic, were protesting recent violent clashes in the West Bank and Gaza, in which over 60 people, predominantly Palestinian and Israeli Arabs, have died.

Several dozen people demonstrate outside Yugoslav Embassy in Prague

Several dozen people also demonstrated outside the Yugoslav Embassy in Prague on Thursday. The protest was a show of solidarity with the hundreds of thousands of citizens who flooded the streets in Belgrade on Thursday to demand acknowledgement of the victory of opposition candidate Vojislav Kostunica and the resignation of President Slobodan Milosevic.

Weather

And finally a quick look at this weekend's weather forecast. Cloudy skies are expected all weekend, with scattered showers in some regions. Day temperatures will reach highs of 18 degrees Celsius in some regions, dropping to lows of 8 degrees at night.