News Sunday, FEBRUARY 04th, 2001

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By: Daniela Lazarova

Pithart meets Cuban President, fails to secure prisoners release

The Chairman of the Czech upper house of Parliament, Petr Pithart has failed to win the release of two Czechs being held in Havana on subversion charges. After a six hour private meeting with the Cuban President Fidel Castro Mr. Pithart told reporters that he was returning home without the detainees , but that the exchange had been a "useful" contribution to ongoing efforts to resolve the sensitive case. The Czech Senate Chairman said he was convinced that both sides would continue "to do everything possible to find a solution in a reasonable time". He declined to answer reporters questions, asking those present not to ask questions "he could not or did not want to answer for fear of hindering the fragile negotiation process". Former Czech finance minister Ivan Pilip and ex-student leader Jan Bubenik have now spent over three weeks in the Villa Marista jailhouse, having been arrested shortly after meeting with Cuban dissidents. The initial charges of "subversive activities" on the grounds of which they were imprisoned have recently been changed to "activities aimed at undermining Cuba's economy".

Cuban leader says he expects an apology

Meanwhile, in his first public comments on the case on Saturday, the Cuban leader said he expected the Czech Republic to apologize for the activities of its two nationals. Addressing a globalization conference in Havana, the Cuban President said "There must be an apology. We are telling the truth and we have the necessary proof" . According to the AP news agency, Fidel Castro described the Czech embassy in Havana as "a lair of spies who had been engaging in intelligence-gathering on the island since the overthrow of communism in Europe." Czech top officials have repeatedly rejected demands for an apology, saying the country had nothing to apologize for since the two Czechs had not visited Cuba in any official capacity.

Czech-Austrian meeting on nuclear safety

Czech and Austrian nuclear experts have agreed on a list of nuclear safety issues that need to be clarified before the controversial Temelin nuclear power plant in south Bohemia can be put into commercial operation. The eight-hour marathon session in Vienna was attended by a delegation of the European Commission, and although few details have been released of the meeting, all parties have described it as "a step in the right direction". Follow up meetings are to take place in Prague and on the site of the Temelin nuclear power plant. These three- party consultations have been called at the initiative of nuclear-free Austria, which has expressed serious concern about Temelin's safety. The plant was activated last October.

Kajinek welcomes possibility of new court hearings

Jiri Kajinek, who is serving a life sentence for two murders in the country's top- security prison, has welcomed the possibility of new court hearings into his case. The convict, who drew media attention late last year by escaping from the maximum-security Mirov prison, has maintained throughout his trial and imprisonment that he is innocent of the crimes for which he was convicted. After studying the Kajinek file himself, deputy prime minister Pavel Rychetsky on Friday announced that he had asked the Supreme Court to consider re- opening the case. Rychetsky said that while he was not convinced that the Kajinek case was a judicial error, he was disturbed by what he described as "numerous inconsistencies". Speaking from his prison cell, Kajinek thanked the deputy prime minister for his effort, calling him "a brave man" and saying that he only wanted justice.

And finally, a quick look at the weather:

no significant change is expected. Sunday should bring cloudy to overcast skies with more snow showers and day temps between 0 and minus 4 degs C. Nighttime temperatures at around minus 10 degs.