News Thursday, JUNE 11th, 1998

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Radio Prague E-news Date: 11.6.1998 Written/read by: David Vaughan

And now the news in more detail.

France Ratifies NATO Expansion

The French National Assembly has become the latest NATO parliament to ratify the expansion of the alliance to include the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland. The vote was passed with a resounding majority from both sides of the house, with the only votes against coming from communist deputies. The French Defence Minister, Alain Richard, described NATO expansion as one of the most important steps being undertaken in Europe this decade. He also repeated France's support for attempts by Romania and Slovenia to join the alliance.

Another NATO member, Italy, is also due to vote shortly on ratifying NATO expansion. The country's Defence Minister, Beniamino Andreatta, has warned the Italian right-wing opposition not to carry out its threat to block the vote as a way of putting pressure on the current left-of-centre government. He said it would be absurd if the whole process of expansion was blocked just because of Italy's internal political squabbles.

Security

The Czech government has set up a national security council, which is to hold its first meeting at the end of this month to discuss a national defence strategy and the armed forces' overall development over the next ten years. The council will be chaired by the Prime Minister and will also include the deputy Prime Ministers and the Defence, Interior and Finance Ministers. Its main aim will be to coordinate what steps should be taken in the event of a threat to national security, as well as during such crises as last year's catastrophic floods.

Plane Crash Payments

The Czech Defence Ministry has begun issuing advance payments to residents of a housing estate in the South Bohemian city of Ceske Budejovice, whose flats were damaged on Monday after the collision of two MiG fighter aircraft over the estate. No-one was seriously injured in the accident, but nearly fifty apartments were damaged. Czech Red Cross is issuing special supplies for families left homeless by the accident. The Defence Minister, Michal Lobkowicz promised on Wednesday that Czech armed forces would offer rapid and generous compensation to those affected. He added that the ministry will present the government with a full report on the state of the Czech airforce.

Chemical Factory Accident

The Farmak chemical works in the city of Olomouc have blamed a faulty valve for a leak of lethal hydrogen chloride that occurred on Tuesday night. Although no-one was injured, the leak threatened a large area of the city. A representative of the firm said that the faulty equipment had only recently undergone safety checks, and added that a further detailed investigation is under way. Last year a leak of sulphur dioxide from the same factory resulted in two deaths.

Zeman Denial

The leader of the opposition Social Democrats, Milos Zeman, has denied rumours that he held talks with former Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus on the possibility of Mr Klaus's Civic Democratic Party tolerating a future Social Democrat minority government. But Mr Zeman, whose party looks likely to win the forthcoming general election without an overall majority, said that he would welcome such an agreement. He pointed out that after the last election in 1996, the Social Democrats themselves agreed to tolerate a minority right-of-centre government. However Mr Klaus on Wednesday categorically ruled out the possibility of his Civic Democrats tolerating a left-of-centre government.

Social Democrats and NATO

The Social Democrats' defence spokesman, Jan Kavan, has said that if his party wins the general election, they will push for the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary to adopt a common strategy in their attempt to join the European Union and NATO. He added that he had also discussed the issue with the Polish Foreign Minister, Bronislaw Geremek, on his recent visit to Prague, and that Mr Geremek had also expressed a strong interest in closer coordination. Mr Kavan said that the Social Democrats also want to set up a ministry specially to deal with European affairs.

Lidice Memorial

The mayor of the Czech village of Lidice, the site of one of the most brutal Nazi massacres during the Second World War, has accused the Czech government of doing nothing to restore the long-neglected memorial to the victims. He said that in the last three years the state has not invested any money into maintaining the memorial, despite a promise made by the then Culture Minister, Pavel Tigrid. This coming Saturday ceremonies will take place in the village to mark the fifty-sixth anniversary of the massacre, in which the Nazis killed all the village's male inhabitants and sent the women to concentration camps.

Army Accident

Three Czech soldiers have been injured during military exercises in Southern Bohemia, after an explosion involving dummy ammunition. Military police have begun investigating the accident, and army sources have said that so far the cause is still not clear.

Czech Airlines Investment

The Transport Minister, Petr Moos, has announced that a foreign bank is to invest at least half a billion crowns into the endebted mainly state-owned Czech Airlines by the end of this year. He said that the government is to decide in the next two weeks with which specific investor to launch talks. Czech Airlines' base capital will be increased by fifteen to twenty percent, and Mr Moos said that the investor may also have the option of purchasing some of the state's share of the company, which currently amounts to over seventy percent. But he stressed that the state does not want to give up its majority stake.

Weather

And finally a quick look at the weather...

Today is a rather gloomy, overcast day with showers and thunderstorms and temperatures between 18 and 22 degrees Celsius. And I'm afraid we can expect the unsettled weather to stay with us into the weekend.

And that's the end of the news.