News Thursday, FEBRUARY 26th, 1998

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Radio Prague E-News date: February 26, 1998, 0800 UTC written/read by: Libor Kubik

These are the top Czech stories at this hour. Now the news in more detail, read by Libor Kubik.

CZECH-GEORGIA-HOSTAGE-FREE

Georgian authorities early on Thursday found a Czech U.N. observer who was lost in the woods for hours after escaping from gunmen just before they surrendered.

Czech Lieutenant-Colonel Jaroslav Kulisek arrived in a U.N. vehicle at U.N. regional headquarters in Zugdidi in western Georgia.

Gunmen loyal to late Georgian leader Zviad Gamsakhurdia released two other U.N. military observers on Wednesday from a remote farmhouse in the west of the former Soviet republic.

Here in Prague, Defence Minister Michal Lobkowicz praised Kulisek's courage and composure during his ordeal which lasted for several days.

HAVEL-HEALTH

Czech President Vaclav Havel is expected to return to work next week after his doctors said on Wednesday that his recovery from minor throat surgery was progressing well.

Havel had angered hundreds of former political prisoners by failing to appear at a Prague Castle ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of Czechoslovakia's communist coup in 1948.

His doctor Ilja Kotik said in a statement that Havel will continue to receive treatment at his private villa in Prague until next Monday.

President Havel had an operation a week ago to close a hole left by a tracheostomy performed to aid Havel's breathing problems after cancer surgery on his lungs more than a year ago.

CZECH-MINISTER-NOMINATION

Czech Prime Minister Josef Tosovsky has named a replacement for the Environment Minister Jiri Skalicky, who resigned last week over a party funding scandal.

Tosovsky's choice is Prague Townhall Environment Chief Martin Bursik. The premier proposed him to President Vaclav Havel on Wednesday as a suitable replacement.

His predecessor Skalicky officially tendered his resignation last week, citing his inability to sort out problems in the Civic Democratic Alliance, of which he was the chairman.

Skalicky relinquished his party chairmanship on the same day.

CZECH-ELECTIONS

The Lower House of the Czech Parliament votes today on a constitutional amendment which would set early elections for June by shortening the election cycle.

The amendment, put forward by the opposition Social Democrats, would cut the normal four-year election cycle in half, ending in June. It includes a clause ordering President Havel to call a general election before June 30.

CLASSIFIED-NATO-MINISTER

Czech Interior Minister Cyril Svoboda warned on Wednesday that the absence of a proper law on the protection of state secrets could complicate his country's admission to NATO.

Minister Svoboda told parliament that without new legislation the alliance would not be in a position to provide the Czech Republic with its classified information. The Lower House decided on Wednesday that draft legislation will go to the committees in the coming weeks.

CZECH-NATO-AMBASSADOR

Deputy Foreign Minister Karel Kovanda becomes the Czech Republic's first envoy of the country's permanent NATO mission in Brussels.

Kovanda's nomination, made late last year, was endorsed on Wednesday by the North Atlantic Council. It was announced in Prague that Kovanda will enjoy an ambassadorial status.

CZECH-PARTY-POLL

Almost three quarters of the Czech population are dissatisfied with the behaviour of political parties. According to a poll conducted in February by the state-funded IVVM public opinion research agency, only 22 percent of those questioned were at least partly satisfied.

Most reservations were targeted on the former ruling Civic Democratic Party, the ODS, of ex-premier Vaclav Klaus, whose record was criticised by 53 percent of those polled.

Most of those questioned said they saw no merit in forming ever new parties.

And according to a survey carried out by the Median agency, most Czechs do not believe that early elections are a cure for their country's political crisis.

Many Czech parties are having problems clarifying the source of their funding. Financial scandals in two right-of-centre parties have led over the past weeks to several defections and a dramatic slump in their approval ratings.

Early elections are tentatively scheduled for the middle of June.

CZECH-ARMS-EXPORT

The Czech Trade and Industry Ministry said on Wednesday that Czech military hardware exports last year rose 55 percent over 1996, reaching 182 million dollars. Arms exports fell by a third over the same period.

Sales of heavy vehicles and aviation technology were the main reasons for the improvement of figures.

Exports went to 57 countries. The best customers, taking over 90 percent, being the United Arab Emirates, India, Thailand, Slovakia, Ethiopia, Poland, Russia and Algeria.

CZECH-WEATHER

A quick look at the weather -- we expect a wet but relatively mild Thursday, with daytime highs between nine and 13 degrees Celsius and around five degrees at the altitude of 1,000 metres.

On Friday morning, a cold front will reach these latitudes, bringing more showers and some snowfalls in the mountains. Nighttime lows one to five Celsius, maximum daytime temperatures from six to 10 degrees on Friday and two to six on Saturday.

And that's the end of the news.