News Thursday, FEBRUARY 17th, 2000

Hello and welcome to the programme. I'm Jana Kotalik. We begin as usual with a brief news bulletin. First, the headlines:

Those were the headlines. Now the news in more detail:

Largest Czech bank promised government bailout as general director resigns

The Czech government announced on Wednesday that it will bail out the largest Czech bank Komercni Banka shortly after the bank's director Jan Kollert resigned. The government had been debating the bailout for some time but its aid was dependent on personnel changes. On Wednesday evening Finance Minister Pavel Mertlik said that the entire board of directors except for one member should be replaced as new faces were needed to complete the bank's privatisation, expected by the end of this year. The ailing institution reportedly lost 8 billion Czech crowns recently due to a large-scale fraud involving the Austrian company BCL Trading.

Czech government steps in to prevent deal between local company and Iranian nuclear power plant

The Czech government decided unanimously on Wednesday to block a deal between a local company planning to export ventilation parts for the Bushire nuclear power station in Iran. Czech Deputy Prime Minister Pavel Rychetsky declined to tell the press how the government planned to block the billion crown deal, saying only that the solution would be fully in line with legal norms. The Czech Republic has been under pressure recently to prevent the sale from several countries including the United States, Great Britain and Israel who fiercely oppose the Iranian nuclear power plant's construction, fearing a potential military link.

Havel speaks to European Parliament in Strasbourg

In a speech to the European Parliament on Wednesday, Czech President Vaclav Havel proposed the creation of a second chamber of the European Parliament to protect the say of the smaller states in an enlarged European Union. President Havel suggested the second parliamentary chamber would not be elected directly but would rather be made up of national representatives selected by each EU member country. This proposition which former European Commission President Jacques Santer called controversial met with reserve from some European Members of Parliament. The Czech President also spoke in favour of elaborating a European constitution - which he said would not turn the Union into one big federal super-state - as feared by Eurosceptics - but would rather bring the idea of uniting Europe closer to the citizen and create a stronger European identity, something which he said was lacking. The speech of the Czech President - a strong advocate of the EU - was interrupted several times by enthusiastic applause.

Reassuring message from Vienna for victims of forced labour

Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schussel said on Wednesday that the new government would not link Austria's compensation for victims of forced labour during World War II to the Benes decrees - which sanctioned the expulsion of millions of German-speaking residents of post-WWII Czechoslovakia into neighbouring Austria and Germany. Chancellor Schussel stressed that his new government program includes speedy compensation for victims of Nazi slave labour. And Austrian Vice-Chancellor Susanne Riess-Passer - a member of the far-right Freedom Party - said that while compensation of forced labour and a desire to achieve settlement for Austrians who lost their homes in Czechoslovakia after World War Two are both mentioned in the new government program, there was no link between the two issues. These statements were immediately welcomed by Prague on Wednesday. Spokesman for the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the message from Vienna was a positive one, adding that Prague will be looking at deeds rather than words. The inclusion of Joerg Haider's far-right Freedom Party in the new Austrian government has raised fears in the Czech Republic that Austria would seek to delay or even veto European Union enlargement.

Decisions of supervisory board of Czech TV to become more transparent

The supervisory board of Czech TV has announced that the decision-making process would be made more open. The board's new chairman Vladislav Kucik said that voting on important issues - such as the choice of a new general director and the passing of Czech TV's budget will be made public and that more official information about the board meetings will be made available. This follows months of criticism of the board from television employees, and members of parliament for its lack of transparency, and the resignation of four of its members, including the chairman two weeks ago. Kucik however denied that the changes were forced by the parliament's threat to sack the entire board.

Czech government reports on assistance to unpaid workers

Czech Labour and Social Affairs Minister Vladimir Spidla announced that the government had filled the parliament's request to provide financial aid to Czech workers who had not received their wages for more than two months. By the end of December 1999, some 400 million Czech crowns of interest-free loans had been provided. According to the Labour Ministry, in 1999, over 50, 000 Czech employees were affected by companies failing to pay wages.

Czech progress on harmonisation of Czech legislation announced

Czech Deputy Prime Minister for legislation Pavel Rychetsky reported at Wednesday's cabinet meeting that the Czech Republic had by January 1st 2000 fully adopted one quarter of the European Union legislation necessary for entry into the club. And, over half of the required legislation has already been partially harmonised. Earlier this week, Czech President Vaclav Havel praised the current government for its success in harmonising certain laws which were the subject of criticism in last fall's annual progress report from the European Commission on the Czech EU entry bid. Deputy Premier Rychetsky also informed ministers on Wednesday that of the 80, 000 pages of EU legislation to be translated into Czech, some 20,000 pages had so far been completed.

Ukraine to impose visa requirement on Czechs

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry has announced that it will bring in a visa requirement for Czech citizens shortly after visas are imposed on Ukrainians by the Czech Republic. Prague announced two weeks ago that in order to bring visa policy closer in line with that of the European Union, visa requirements would be re-instated for Ukrainian, Russian and Belarussian nationals as of May. Russia and Belarus have so far not responded reciprocally, although this is expected.


And we end as usual with a brief look at the weather. For Thursday we expect mainly cloudy skies with a chance of rain or light snow. Daytime temperatures should range from +2 to +6 degrees Celsius, falling to a low of -4 overnight.

I'm Jana Kotalik and that's the end of the news.