News Thursday, DECEMBER 10th, 1998

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Welcome to the programme. Those were the headlines and now the news in more detail read by DL

Pork row happy-ending

There has been a positive development in the row between Prague and the EU over heavily subsidized pork imports to the Czech Republic. Following another round of technical consultations earlier this week, aimed at clarifying differences over statistical data, the EU has decided to temporarily lower subsidies on pork exports to all associate countries by 50 percent. According to EU commissioner Franz Fischler, this is a sign of good will and the EU expects the countries concerned to refrain from adopting any trade barriers. The measure should send the price of pork on the Czech market up by an average 6 crowns per kilo. Czech agriculture minister Jan Fencl described the EU measure as " a victory of reason and sound sense". According to Fencl the EU measure has not been frameworked in time or conditioned in any way.

US - CR - security

US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has urged the Czech Republic to improve security of classified information, as one of the basic conditions for admission to NATO. In a meeting with the foreign ministers of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, the three frontrunners in the race for NATO admission, Albright said that admission would most likely take place before NATO's Washington summit in April, but she reminded them that certain basic criteria would have to be met by all three states in question. In the case of the Czech Republic she stressed in particular the need for more effective security measures. The Czech Republic has been plagued by leaks of classified information in recent months.

Government session

The Czech cabinet has approved measures to help the third largest Czech bank, Ceska Sporitelna, to overcome its financial difficulties . They include a short term loan of five and a half billion crowns and help from the Czech Consolidation Bank which will buy Ceska Sporitelna's bad loans for the price of four billion. On a different topic -under pressure from the public and animal rights activist, the government also amended a proposed legislation which would have allowed the authorities to put down stray animals. Magistrates are encouraged to build cat and dog shelters and stray animals may in future be put down only if they present a health hazard.

Kessler - protest

The Chairman of the Constitutional Court Zdenek Kessler has slammed the media for speculation that he might influence the outcome of the Court's decision regarding his daughter Dagmar Lastovecka. The Supreme Court ruled Lastovecka's election to the Senate null and void on the grounds that she had broken the law banning campaigning 48 hours prior to voting. Her party, the ODS, has said it would contest the ruling, sending it to the Constitutional Court. Kessler said that as Court chairman he had no influence on which judge would get the case or the ruling of the Court Senate.

Lastovecka -legislation

In a related development, the head of the Institute for State and Judiciary Matters, Vladimir Balas, has pointed out that Lastovecka's predicament underlines the need for a change of the electoral law. The law should strictly ban any mention of the election candidates in all media outlets, and in case of a violation those responsible for putting the news out should be held accountable, Balas said. This is supported both by President Vaclav Havel and the majority of Czech politicians.

Telecom -changes

An extraordinary session of the telecommunications monopoly SPT Telecom which took place on Wednesday, made significant changes in the company's board of directors and the supervisory board. As expected, the state used its majority ownership to strengthen its representation on both boards. Until now, the state which holds a 51-percent stake in the company, was in a minority position in SPT's management, and unable to significantly influence crucial decision making.

Slovaks - dual citizenship

Slovaks who wish to acquire Czech citizenship, on a dual citizenship basis, will be able to do so before the year is out, according to interior minister Vaclav Grulich. Grulich said the executive order would be signed in a matter of days, although there were still a few details that needed finalizing such as social and health insurance matters and the question of military conscription. Czech expats living elsewhere in the world will have to wait a little longer for their Czech citizenship rights since that will require a law on dual citizenship. According to Grulich the proposed bill should be put before the Cabinet before the end of December.

Conference - media - racism

An international conference on the role of the media in combatting racism and xenophobia opens will be held in Prague on Thursday, December 10th. The conference which has been organized by the Syndicate of Czech Journalists, the Foundation for Freedom of Speech and the Czech branch of the Helsinki Committee will be attended by leading Czech intellectuals from different walks of life. Foreign guests American writer and commentator John Sack and the Secretary General of the International Federation of Journalists Aidan White.

Finally a look at the weather: Thursday should be another very cold day with scattered snow showers and day temps between minus 6 and minus two degs C. Nighttime lows at around minus 10 degs.