News Thursday, FEBRUARY 24th, 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:

Government blocks exports to nuclear power plant in Iran

The Czech government drew up a draft law on Wednesday to ban exports for use in the construction of the Bushire nuclear power station in Iran. The government will request the lower house speaker Vaclav Klaus to speed the legislation through parliament and it is expected to be debated in Thursday´s session. Government spokesman Libor Roucek told reporters that it is a question of the Czech Republic´s security which requires emergency measures. The new law is meant to block a controversial deal of a local company - ZVVZ Milevsko - which planned to export ventilation parts to the Iranian power plant. After a meeting with company representatives, Czech Industry Minister Miroslav Gregr promised government compensation to cover approximately 75 % of the billion Crown contract. The Czech Republic has been under considerable international pressure recently to block exports to the Iranian power plant which is a seen as a potential military threat. Czech politicians have pointed to the necessity of adopting measures before the March 5th visit of US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

Deputy leader of main opposition threatens to oppose budget

Deputy chairman of the main opposition Civic Democrats Ivan Langer warned Prime Minister Milos Zeman on Wednesday that unless he delivered on the promise of a cabinet reshuffle before the next budget debate, most of the Civic Democrat members of parliament would not back the budget. Prime Minister Zeman reacted by saying that he would not allow himself be blackmailed. This is the latest development in the ongoing political battle over the state budget and cabinet changes which are widely expected to bring five new ministers into the Social Democrat cabinet. The right-of-centre opposition Civic Democrats have made their support of the budget conditional on ministerial changes, and have been growing increasingly impatient with the delay. The third draft of the state budget is to go into its second reading after March 1st.

Verheugen praises Czech progress on road to EU entry

The European Union commissioner for enlargement Gunter Verheugen said on Wednesday that Czech preparations for membership in the EU have improved significantly since last October´s critical progress report from the European Commission. Verheugen told the foreign affairs committee of the European Parliament that he was pleased with Prague´s recent efforts - notably the Czech government´s ambitious legislative program - but that there was still much work to be done. The progress report, according to the enlargement commissioner has had a positive motivating effect on speeding up preparations. He also noted that while it is strange for politicians in the west that the Czech opposition is keeping the government in power, the power-sharing agreement between the country´s two largest parties is having positive effects on the harmonization of Czech laws with EU legislation.

Czech-Greek Agreement on Cooperation in the Balkans

During an official visit to Greece on Wednesday, the Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan signed an agreement with his Greek counterpart George Papandreou on cooperation in the economic renewal and development of the Balkans. Besides the Memorandum on mutual cooperation, the two men also jointly opened an information office of the Czech-Greek council. Greek Foreign Minister Papandreou called the agreement ´another link in the chain of joint initiatives´, recalling last spring´s Czech-Greek initiative to end the Kosovo conflict. Foreign Minister Kavan noted that the agreement represented a new chance to increase trade and business activity between the two countries and in the Balkans in general. Kavan stated that he would like to see mutual trade doubled and Greek investment in the Czech Republic, so far minimal, increased.

Polish President receives medal from Brno University

The Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski spent the final afternoon of his two-day visit to the Czech Republic on Wednesday in Brno, where he received the highest honorary medal from Brno's Masaryk University. In his speech during the ceremony, President Kwasniewski spoke of the Slavic element in the process of European integration. Later the Polish president met with representatives of the Czech constitutional court. Two top court judges after the meeting told the Czech News Agency that while the two countries faced similar challenges, Poland's justice system was ahead of the Czech Republic's.

Czech Skinhead faces charges for giving Nazi salute

A twenty three year-old man was charged by the Czech authorities on Wednesday for giving the Nazi salute at a recent skinhead demonstration. The charges - for supporting and promoting movements which go against the basic rights and freedoms of the individual - carry a sentence of up to five years in prison. More than 100 skinheads participated in the rally on Prague's Wenceslav Square last Saturday organized by the extremist organization the National Alliance in support of the right-wing Freedom Party of Joerg Haider which recently entered a government coalition in neighbouring Austria. The Prague police was criticized by some Czech politicians after Saturday´s demonstration for standing by while some of the skinhead participants gave the Nazi salute.

Experts from Council of Europe praise city of Usti nad Labem

Two experts from the Council of Europe visiting the Czech Republic praised the north Bohemian city of Usti nad Labem on Wednesday for having taken positive steps in resolving problems between the Roma minority and the majority population in the town. Usti nad Labem came into international focus last fall after a wall was built in Maticni Street to separate the neighbourhood's Roma and non-Roma residents. According to a city spokesman, the two experts from the Strasbourg-based human rights organization said, however, that there was still much work to be done in improving inter-ethnic relations, and offered co-operation with the Council of Europe. They met with Roma representatives and city officials on Wednesday and will submit a report to the Council of Europe detailing possible areas of improvement.

Government opts for full privatization of Czech radio communications operator The Czech government announced a public tender on Wednesday to sell its 51 % share in the Czech wireless communications operator Ceske radiokomunikaci to a single investor. This overturns the government's earlier decision to offer its foreign partner TeleDanmark an increased share in the company. Besides the Danish company, the German telecommunications giant DeutcheTelecom has also expressed interest in purchasing the state's majority stake in the company. The government decided on Wednesday to grant a loan guarantee of up to 700 million US dollars to Ceske radiokomunikaci to allow the company to increase its capital in the mobile phone operator RadioMobil.

Parliament approves energy legislation in its first reading

The Lower House of Czech Parliament on Wednesday passed in its first reading the new energy bill which is to regulate the energy market and bring this area of legislation closer in line with the European Union body of laws. The energy draft law paves the way for a gradual liberalization of electricity, gas and heating industries with full liberalization promised for the year 2007. Some members of parliament, however, have criticized the slow pace of liberalization.

Czech Republic counts high number of prisoners

According to statistics just published by the British Interior Ministry, the Czech Republic counts a higher number of prisoners per capita than countries of the European Union and other Central and Eastern European states. Out of 100, 000 Czech residents, 215 are behind bars, while in Austria, France and Germany the number hovers around 90. The data on 29 countries shows that only Russia, the United States and South Africa have fuller prisons.


And we end as usual with a brief look at the weather in the Czech Republic. Thursday should bring mainly cloudy skies with a chance of rain or snow in some areas. Temperatures during the day should range from plus one to plus five degrees Celsius, cooling down to a low of minus seven overnight.

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