News Sunday, MARCH 22nd, 1998

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

The Social Democrat leader, Milos Zeman, has indirectly accused the Freedom Union of being behind the scandal that has buffetted his party this week. Speaking at his regular Friday press conference Zeman said that the scandal was in the interests of the Freedom Union and that the party's leader, the former interior minister Jan Ruml, may posess compromising material on a number of leading Social Democrats. However, Ruml has rejected Zeman's accusations, describing them as absurd. He went on to say the scandal was not in the interest of anyone who was concerned for the stability of the Czech Republic and who wanted to fight the forthcoming general elections on the basis of their programme. He also denied having compromising information on anyone. 13

The trial of a man accused of the racial murder of a Sudanese student has ended. The verdict will be read on Monday. In her final statement to the court, the state attorney called for Petr Zbornik to receive a sentence of 13 to 15 years in prison for the murder. She also called for the accused's 16-year-old accomplice to receive a suspended sentence. The killing of the student caused a wave of anti-racist sentiment in the Czech Republic, with leading politicians pledging to clamp down on racial violence. Nevertheless, further racial attacks have taken place since, including the recent killing of a Romany woman who was thrown into a river. The counsel for the defence of those accused of the attack on the Sudanese student concluded their case by describing their clients as victims of society, and said no-one had done anything to protect young people from the lure of racist ideologies. 15

The Environment Minister, Martin Bursik, who was appointed last month after the resignation of Jiri Skalicky, has decided to revise a key policy blueprint drafted by his predecessor. Bursik said the document was not based on the concept of saving natural resources, and did not therefore correspond with the principle of sustainable development. As an example, he cited the policy document's assumption that exports of raw materials would continue to grow. In Bursik's view, these commodities are cheap at the moment and therefore Czech policy should try to avoid their over-exploitation. Bursik said he would be proposing a new environmental strategy, including programmes for saving energy and using alternative sources of energy. 12

The trade deficit in February continued its decreasing trend. According to the latest figures from the Czech statistics office, the Czech Republic's trade deficit amounted to 3.6 billion crowns - which is well below what the markets expected. Year-on-year, imports have risen by almost 25 percent, but continue to be outpaced by exports which are up by over 45 percent. 6