News Thursday, JUNE 01th, 2000

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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 and now the news in more detail:

Government increases minimum wage

The Czech government has decided to increase the minimum wage in the Czech Republic by more than ten percent, to four thousand five hundred Czech Crowns, or just over one hundred dollars a month. The minimum hourly wage had also been increased to twenty five Czech Crowns, or just over sixty cents. The reason for the decision is a long-term government plan to raise minimum living standards for the average adult. The new minimum wage levels will come into effect as of July 1st.

Electoral law may face problems in the Senate

The new electoral law passed by the Lower House of Parliament last week, may not make it through the Senate. The law, which was pushed through the Lower House by the ruling Social Democrats and the Civic Democrats, will introduce elements of the first-past-the-post system, and make it harder for smaller parties to obtain parliamentary representation. The Social Democrats and Civic Democrats possess a majority in the Senate, but several Social Democrat Senators are planning to vote against the law, and at least one Civic Democrat Senator is undecided. According to the constitution, any change to the electoral law must be passed by both houses of Parliament, and if the Senate rejects it, it will not be returned to the Lower House for further debate. President Vaclav Havel called on Senators this week not to support the law, as it would strengthen the larger parties and remove smaller parties from the Lower House.

Moldovan Transport Minister robbed at knifepoint

The Moldovan Minister of Transport, Afanasie Smochin, has been robbed at knifepoint in the centre of Prague. According to information just released by the police, Mr. Smochin and his deputy minister were attacked on Monday on Celetna Street in the centre of Prague by a group of six Russian-speaking men. One of them held a knife to his throat, and demanded he hand over his money. When Mr. Smochin refused, he was knocked to the ground and beaten, before his assailants made off with eight hundred dollars. Mr. Smochin has since returned home to Moldova.

KB to make more than 2,000 people redundant

One of the Czech Republic's largest banks, Komercni Banka, is due to make up to 2,300 people, or almost a fifth of its workforce, redundant by the end of the year. The reasons given by the bank for the move are that it needs to cut costs and reduce the risk of faulty transactions, which have cost the bank billions of Czech Crowns in recent months. Komercni Banka also unveiled plans to cover its large losses for 1999 of 9.2 billion Czech Crowns, or two and fifty million dollars from the bank's reserve funds.

Government approves programme for EU accession preparations

The Czech government has approved a national programme for preparations for EU accession. The national programme contains the tasks that the Czech Republic must undertake to bring its laws in line with European Union norms and fulfil the conditions for joining the free market within the EU. According to government spokesman Libor Roucek, the Czech Republic's top priorities will be the environment, economic policy, fighting organised crime and transforming the country's industrial and banking sectors.

Havel offers to mediate with protest groups

President Vaclav Havel has offered to mediate with protest groups planning to demonstrate against the IMF and World Bank meetings that are due to held in Prague in September. After meeting with World Bank president James Wolfensohn, President Havel said he would organise a discussion forum at Prague Castle just before the IMF and World Bank meetings take place. According to one presidential aide, the aim of the meeting would be to bring together leaders of the protest groups and top officials from the two financial institutions for dialogue. According to many protest groups, global institutions foster policies that deepen poverty and damage the environment.

Investigators question Petra Buzkova over smear campaign

State investigators have questioned Social Democrat Deputy Chairwoman Petra Buzkova over an alleged smear campaign against her. Ms. Buzkova asked the police two weeks ago to look into claims made by the daily Mlada Fronta Dnes that the paper had been handed a document, which it claims originated amongst Prime Minister Milos Zeman's closest advisors. The document contains a plan, called Operation Lead, which apparently analyses Ms. Buzkova's weaknesses and even proposes concrete steps to discredit her. The prime minister has denied the claims, saying that he has concluded his own investigation and is now sure that the document is fake. Investigators have questioned other witnesses apart from Ms. Buzkova, but have declined to give any names

Havel due to for hernia operation

On a related note, President Havel announced on Wednesday that he is due to go into hospital over the weekend for a hernia operation on Monday. The president has had problems with a hernia ever since he had a live-saving operation performed on lower intestine, which ruptured in 1998. President Havel has had to lose ten kilograms in weight over the past few months in order to prepare for the operation, and if all goes well, he should spend two weeks in hospital afterwards. Dagmar Havlova, the First Lady, is also currently undergoing treatment for Lime's Disease, which she apparently caught from a tick.

And finally the weather forecast.

The weather on Friday should be slight warmer, with partially overcast skies. Temperatures between twenty two and twenty six degrees centigrade. Temperatures during the night should be between four and eight degrees centigrade. I'm Nick Carey, and that's the end of the news.