News Thursday, JANUARY 18th, 2001

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By David Vaughan

Striking TV staff occupy headquarters

Czech politicians have reacted with surprise to the extraordinary developments on Wednesday at Czech Television. Striking TV staff occupied Czech TV's head office, and placed the network's financial director Ladislav Paluska in charge, in defiance of the acting head, Vera Valterova. The striking journalists said that Mrs Valterova and other members of the management appointed by Jiri Hodac, who resigned as director last week, had failed to produce documents showing that they were legitimately in charge of Czech TV. They said that under those conditions, Mr Paluska, as financial director, was justified in taking control of Czech Television. After visiting the TV headquarters the Culture Minister, Pavel Dostal said that Mr Paluska had given assurances that he only wanted to be in charge for a few hours, and had called for a special provisional council to be appointed to lead Czech TV through the current crisis. The Prime Minister Milos Zeman condemned Mr Paluska's action outright, adding that he was speaking on behalf of the entire ruling Social Democratic Party. Some politicians sympathetic to the striking journalists, including the head of the opposition Christian Democrats, Jan Kasal, also criticized the journalists' occupation of the TV headquarters. Mr Kasal described the way that they imposed Mr Paluska onto the leadership as unwise and counterproductive.

Senate rejects TV bill

During the dramatic events around Czech Television headquarters, the upper house of the Czech Parliament, the Senate, was debating a bill aimed at changing the way Czech Television's director is appointed. The bill was hurried through the lower house last week, in the hope of finding a quick solution to the crisis in Czech TV, and reducing the influence of political parties. However on Wednesday evening the Senate rejected the bill by a majority of just one vote, as Senators from the opposition coalition of four right-of-centre parties, felt that it did not go far enough in reducing political influence on Czech Television. The lower house is expected to override the Senate veto.

Catholic Church joins battle for release of Czech citizens in Cuba

The Czech Catholic Church has appealed to the Vatican to intervene on behalf of two Czech citizens, arrested in Cuba at the end of last week. One of the two men being held is member of parliament and former Czech Finance Minister Ivan Pilip, who was detained along with a former student dissident Jan Bubenik, after meeting opponents of Fidel Castro's regime. Church sources said that President Havel would ask Pope John Paul II personally to help in trying to assure their release. The US State Department has also issued a statement demanding the two men's release, and members of the Czech parliament representing all five parties in the lower house have sent a letter of protest to their counterparts in the Cuban parliament. The Czech parliament's foreign affairs committee has said it will send an all-party delegation to Cuba if the situation is not resolved rapidly. Talks on Wednesday between the Czech charge d'affaires in Havana and the Cuban foreign ministry ended without a break in the deadlock.

Beef import ban

The Czech Republic has decided to ban all imports of beef and beef products from European Union countries, with the exception of Greece, Sweden and Finland. The agriculture minister, Jan Fencl, said that the ban was being extended to Austria and Italy, because cases of BSE have been diagnosed in both countries in recent days. Mr Fencl said that his intention was simple - to keep the Czech Republic BSE-free.

Austrian government criticized for its stance towards the Czech Republic

The Austrian opposition Social Democrats have accused their country's government of not being sufficiently tough towards the Czech Republic over the controversial Temelin nuclear power plant. The party's environmental spokeswoman said that the government had stopped putting pressure on the Czech side ever since an agreement was signed between the two countries last December, when the Czech side agreed to an environmental impact study. Austrian nuclear opponents have called a further demonstration against Temelin for Friday.

Weather forecast

And finally, a look at the weather. It will remain very cold with fog in places and light snow showers. Temperatures will reach between minus 4 degrees Celsius and freezing point, and will sink to as low as minus twelve at night. We can expect similar weather over the weekend, although there may also be some sunshine.