News Thursday, JANUARY 20th, 2000

Hello and welcome to the programme. I'm Nick Carey and this is the news. First, a look at the headlines.

Those were the headlines, now the news in more detail:

Slow screenings causing more problems

The Czech diplomatic corps is apparently suffering from a lack of employees who have undergone security screening. According to Deputy Foreign Minister Ales Pospisil, the diplomatic corps is finding it increasingly difficult to prevent being overloaded by its obligations to the Czech Republic's foreign partners. The problem apparently lies with the National Security Office, which is responsible for the security screening process. Last year over fifteen hundred applications for security screening were sent to this office, but only one hundred and forty were processed. The Czech armed forces are suffering from the same problem, and Chief of Staff Jiri Sedivy has warned that Czech participation in NATO projects is under threat due to the slow screening process.

Petition's authors see no reason to apologise

The authors of a petition in the North Bohemian town of Karlovy Vary against the creation of a Roma culture centre, have said that they see no reason to apologise for their actions. The man behind the petition, and also the regional chairman of the opposition Civic Democrats, Jiri Stadnik, said that the petition was not aimed at Roma, but against the creation of a cultural centre in a residential area. Mr. Stadnik rejected claims that this was an act of racial intolerance, and said that he could not understand why anyone would expect an apology from him. According to Mr. Stadnik, the Roma should not have their own cultural centre, becauses experience from other cities around the country have shown that this apparently accentuates racial tensions. He said that the Roma should use existing cultural facilities. A local Roma organisation has requested an apology for the petition, as representatives say this is an incitement to racial intolerance.

French ambassador thanks Czech rescue workers

The French ambassador to the Czech Republic, Philippe Coste, thanked Czech rescue workers and soldiers who helped repair damage caused by massive storms and flooding in southern France over the New Year. The rescue workers were presented with medals by Foreign Minister Jan Kavan for installing eight emergency generators, which provided electricity to dozens of stricken villages in the affected region. The French ambassador said that the Czech Republic was amongst the first six countries to offer help, and said that the people in the villages who had been provided with electricity by the emergency generators were extremely grateful for what the rescue workers had done.

Drug offences in the army doubled in 1999

The commander of the Czech Republic's ground forces, Frantisek Hrabal. told journalists on Wednesday that the number of drug offences in the infantry had more than doubled in 1999 over 1998. The military police, Hrabal said, have begun using sniffer dogs on army bases, which are trained to locate even tiny amounts of narcotics. Over fifty soldiers were arrested for possessing drugs in 1999, up from 22 in 1998. Drug abuse is a problem facing the whole society, Hrabal said, even the armed forces. The commander said that there was also a dramatic increase in the number of thefts and cases of fraud in the army in 1999.

Justice Minister visits prison

In a surprise move, Justice Minister Otakar Motejl paid a visit to Vinarice prison in Central Bohemia. He met with representatives of prisoners who have been protesting since the beginning of last week over living conditions. The demonstrations by inmates eventually spread to fifteen of the country's thirty three prisons after prisoners saw news of the protests on television. The Justice Minister apparently informed the prisoners of how he perceived the current situation in the prison system, and of the changes he would like to make in the future. The head of the Justice Ministry's Prison Services Department, Zdenek Kovarik to discuss the short-term demands the prisoners made during the protests last week. Mr. Kovarik said that he and the inmates had agreed that all but one of the prisoner's demands had been met. The only demand that was rejected was that the directors of individual prisons be removed from their posts.

Christian Democrat leader criticises opposition pact

In an interview with the Slovak newspaper Narodna Obroda, the leader of the centre-right Christian Democrats, Jan Kasal, claims that the minority Social Democrat has created stagnation in Czech politics. He was especially critical of the opposition pact, an agreement the centre-right Civic Democrats have made to keep the centre-left Social Democrats in power. The five new areas that the two parties have agreed to co-operate in, Mr. Kasal said, will be a demoralising factor in Czech politics. According to him, the opposition pact will damage the country's image abroad image. The Social Democrats, Mr. Kasal clams, is at a crossroads, and they have to choose between fulfilling their election manifesto, or giving in to the Civic Democrats and thereby losing their sovereignty.

Police arrest four illegal immigrants on German border

German border police arrested four illegal immigrants from Sri Lanka on Monday as they tried to cross the Czech-German border. The four men walked right into the hands of a local patrol, announced a police spokesman in Dresden. The men, apparently not realising that a van they saw heading for them was carrying police officers, and halted it to ask for a lift.

And finally the weather.

Today we should see partially cloudy to cloudy skies, with scattered snow showers. Temperatures during the day should range between minus two and plus two degrees centigrade. The weather on Friday and Saturday should bring overcast skies, again with scattered snow showers, with temperatures ranging from between minus two to plus two degrees centigrade. And that was the news.