News Saturday, SEPTEMBER 23rd, 2000

By: Kazi Stasna

First anti-IMF/World Bank protests set for Saturday

The first protests against the meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, currently underway in Prague, are set to take place this Saturday. On that day finance ministers from the G7 countries are scheduled to hold their first meeting. Both right-wing and left-wing groups opponents of globalisation are planning street demonstrations in parts of the capital that day.

State Nuclear Safety Office orders repeat of safety checks at Temelin

The State Nuclear Safety Office has ordered a repeat of several unsuccessful safety checks at the Temelin nuclear power plant. Several of the tests carried out this week failed to pass all necessary criteria and a cooling of temperatures in the first reactor back down to an earlier stage of preparation was ordered. The repetition of the tests will postpone the activation of fuel in the reactor, which was expected to begin this weekend.

Finance Minister Pavel Mertlik denies charges of perjury in IPB case

The finance minister, Pavel Mertlik, has reiterated his denial of recent allegations that he lied to a commission investigating the events surrounding the forced administration and subsequent sale of one of the largest Czech banks Investicni a Postovni Banka, or IPB. At a press conference held as part of the meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank currently underway in Prague, Mr. Mertlik described the charges of perjury, brought against him by the Christian Democratic chairman of the commission, Miroslav Kalousek, as a political matter and a part of the campaign leading up to the November Senate and regional elections. He alleged that varying interpretations were at the heart of the misunderstanding concerning the question of whether he did or did not have advance knowledge of a bid by CSOB bank for IPB. In June of this year, the government acted quickly to rescue the heavily indebted bank from collapse by placing it under forced administration and days later selling it to CSOB. A commission investigating the case was set up in early July at the instigation of the opposition Civic Democratic Party.

Upper house to vote in favour of prolonged lustration laws

The upper house is expected to vote in favour of the extension of lustration laws governing the vetting of citizens and security service employees, which are set to expire at the end of this year. Under the proposed amendment, the two laws would expire only after the passing of new laws on the civil service and public office. The amendments were approved earlier in the week by the lower house and have the support of all centre-right parties in the Senate as well as some Social Democrats.

Austrian opponents of Temelin power plant block borders

Austrian opponents of the Temelin nuclear power plant in South Bohemia have blocked almost all crossings along the Czech-Austrian border. At some crossings several rows of tractors blocked passage and resulted in waiting periods for lorry drivers of up to nine hours. The protests began in early hours of the morning on Friday and were set to end early in the evening.

ODS to support lowering of fuel tax only if it benefits consumers

The Civic Democratic Party, or ODS, has vowed to support a lowering of fuel tax only on condition that it results in lower prices for consumers. The lower house's budgetary committee supported proposals for a ten per cent fuel price cut made by MPs from the Civic Democratic Party and the Freedom Union and recommended a lowering of fuel tax earlier this week. The recommendation will be voted on at the chamber's session in late October. The ODS has said that it will release its final stance on the proposal after it meets with fuel producers and distributors.

Transport unions propose solution to fuel price hikes

Four main unions of lorry drivers and transport companies have agreed on six means of tackling rising fuel prices. In a joint letter to Prime Minister Milos Zeman, the unions outlined their own specific concerns as well as areas of agreement, which include price regulation or a possible price freeze, road tax breaks for environmentally friendly vehicles, and a 50 per cent cut in highway fees or their eradication. The Ministry of Transport and Communications will meet next week to discuss the drivers' demands.