News Thursday, DECEMBER 16th, 1999

Hello and a very warm welcome to Radio Prague. I´m Rob Cameron, first the news headlines.

Those were the headlines, now for the news in more detail.

Puchalsky resigns as head of Czech Television

The Director General of the country's public television corporation, Czech Television, has announced his resignation. Jakub Puchalsky made the announcement on Wednesday, a week after the Board of Czech Television voted in favour of him stepping down. The thirty-year-old Mr Puchalsky, who was appointed in February last year, was a controversial choice for Director General. Many critics said the BBC-trained journalist lacked the experience of his predecessor Ivo Mathe, and a number of people left the station in protest at his appointment. Others say Czech Television has come under severe political pressure recently, particularly from the main opposition Civic Democrats.

Unions to demonstrate against late wages

The country's largest union umbrella organisation has called on employees who have not received their wages to demonstrate outside the lower house of parliament on Tuesday. The Czech Moravian Confederation of Trade Unions said the unions' patience with companies who pay late or not all had now run out. The chairman of the organisation, Richard Falbr, warned representatives of political parties to stay away from the demonstration.

Zantovsky: Russian secret services "grave threat" to Czech security

The chairman of the Senate committee for defence and security has said foreign intelligence services, and particularly the Russian secret services, are intensifying their activities in the Czech Republic. Senator Michael Zantovsky said the rise of foreign intelligence activity posed the single greatest security risk to the country. Mr Zantovsky recommended reintroducing visas for all citizens of the former Soviet Union as a way of limiting the risk. He described the Czech Republic, which joined NATO earlier this year, as an easy target for foreign intelligence.

Communists, Civic Democrats neck and neck in polls

A new opinion poll released on Wednesday showed the Communist Party and the right-of-centre Civic Democrats neck and neck. The poll, released by the state-run IVVM agency, put both parties on 22 percent of the vote. The right-of-centre Christian Democrats came third with 18 percent, while the ruling Social Democrats, who won the elections last year with over 30 percent, have slipped to fourth place with just 14 percent. The poll is roughly in line with previous surveys carried out in recent months, suggesting a steady decline in support for the Social Democrats and a steady rise for the largely unreformed Communist Party.

Svoboda to stay in custody until trial

A court has ordered the disgraced former Finance Minister Ivo Svoboda, who is facing fraud charges, to remain in custody until trial. Mr Svoboda and his former assistant are being prosecuted over the collapse of a baby carriage company, Liberta, which went bankrupt in suspicious circumstances in 1997. Prosecutors allege Liberta's assets were siphoned off into separate firms, leaving the company to go under. Mr Svoboda was sacked as Finance Minister in July.

Police shoot dead man in drugs raid

Police in the West Bohemian city of Plzen say a man was shot dead on Tuesday during a raid on a suspected drugs gang. A spokesman said the gang was armed and the man had threatened an officer with a pistol. A number of drugs and weapons were seized in the raid.

Democratic Union to receive state funds

The Constitution Court has ruled that the right-of-centre Democratic Union should receive almost eight million crowns in state funds for last year's parliamentary elections. The Finance Ministry decided last year that the party was ineligible for the funds because it had received less than the three-percent minimum of the vote necessary for state funding.

Havel to visit Vatican Friday

The Czech President Vaclav Havel is to pay an official visit to the Vatican on Friday. Mr Havel will present Pope John Paul II with a Christmas tree from Moravia's Beskydy mountains and take part in a seminar on the religious reformer Jan Hus. This is Mr Havel's third official visit to the Vatican.

Berger Czech footballer of 1999

The Liverpool midfielder Patrik Berger has won the Golden Ball award for the best Czech footballer of 1999. Attacker Jan Koller, who plays for Belgium's Anderlecht, came second, followed by last year's winner, Lazio centre-forward Pavel Nedved.

Villages returned town status

And finally three villages are celebrating today after being officially granted town status by the Chamber of Deputies. The villages, Olesnice, Liban and Brezova, have been fighting to regain their town status for several decades. The mayor of Brezova, Martin Kiss, said his village had been made a town in 1497, but for unknown reasons it was re-designated a village in 1945. Mr Kiss described the decision as historic.


And I´ll end as usual with a quick look at Friday´s weather forecast. And it will be a mostly clear day, with daytime temperatures reaching a maximum of one degree Celsius and night-time temperatures will fall to as low as minus eight degrees.

I'm Rob Cameron and that's the end of the news.