News Sunday, APRIL 05th, 1998

Those are the headlines, I'm Ray Furlong, and now the news in more detail.

The lower house of Parliament has approved a long-awaited law on universities, which does not contain obligatory tuition fees - concluding a question which has dominated debate over higher education in the Czech Republic for a number of years. Instead, under the new law, students will only have to pay if they fail exams and decide to repeat a year. The law also provides for the establishment of private universities.

The approval of the universities' law comes as an international conference on the future of higher education opens in Prague. Top academics in all fields from universities all over the world will be discussing the challenges presented by new technology, globalisation, and other changes in the 21st century. Delegates at the conference, which marks the 650th anniversary of the establishment of Prague's Charles University, will also consider how universities can deal with racial and religious conflict - and whether they can be a force for multiculturalism.

The lower house of Parliament has also approved a law allowing the government to declare a state of emergency in the case of natural disasters, serious industrial accidents, or other dangers. However, the law does not allow the government to do so because of a strike being held. This was the most controversial point of the law, which limits civil rights in times of emergency. By emmitting the clause on strikes, the safe passage of the law was ensured with support coming from all parties except the communists and the far-right Republicans. The Defence Minister, Michal Lobkowicz, welcomed the approval of the law. He said the Czech Republic's existing legislation on crisis situations dated from the 1950s and 60s, making it incompatible with the country's new democratic constitution.

The head of the Czech counter-intelligence service, Karel Vulterin, has met with Prime Minister Josef Tosovsky to discuss corruption allegations made against him in an anonymous letter. Speaking after the meeting, the embattled security chief told journalists that the letter did have a basis in fact; but that the facts had been distorted and expediently abused. Vulterin also said some elements of the letter were completely false, and that he would be bringing libel charges against an unknown prepertrator. The case has come as a further headache for Vulterin, who is already under pressure over his performance as intelligence supremo. As the leader of the parliamentary commission overseeing the secret service put it, "we wouldn't normally pay any attention to an anonymous letter, but in the case of Vulterin there are so many doubts already."

Prague investigators have brought criminal charges of inciting racial hatred against a company which brought out a compact disc composed by a skinhead rock group in 1995. The CD, entitled Skins Songs, was distributed and sold illegally by a company called Tonda-Top Skins Records. Police investigators told the CTK news agency that the lyrics of the songs had been examined by experts, and determined to be racist. The charges could lead to a prison sentence of up to two years.

The death penalty should be re-introduced, according to 67 percent of the Czech population. This is the finding of an opinion poll conducted in March, which found just 16 percent were against the death penalty. The poll found backing for the ultimate punishment went across the political spectrum, although it was higher among supporters of left-wing parties. Nevertheless, only eight percent of those questioned believed the reintroduction of the death penalty would reduce the crime rate.