News Thursday, JUNE 15th, 2000

Those are the headlines and now the news in more detail:

Government pledges to save IPB

The government has moved to allay fears regarding the future of the Czech Republic's biggest bank, the IPB. Breaking off a marathon late night government session for a press briefing, finance minister Pavel Mertlik said the government had decided to support the ailing bank. There are several stabilization scenarios on the table and they all involve government assistance. In return the government will expect certain guarantees, he added. An IPB spokesman said on Wednesday evening that the rush to withdraw savings had abated slightly following the news of pending government support. He said the bank had done its best to curb the panic by meeting all financial requests.

Government approves plan for Romany integration

The government has likewise approved a long-term plan for the integration of the Roma minority into Czech society. The plan envisages better police protection for Romanies, many of whom live in fear of attacks by skinheads, a gradual and systematic elimination of all forms of discrimination from primary schools to work-places, improved living conditions and a special emphasis on education. Cabinet ministers also highlighted the importance of tolerance campaigns targeted at the white majority.

Justice minister to draft new law on same-sex registered partnerships

The Cabinet has commissioned the justice minister to draft a new law on same- sex registered partnerships. An earlier proposal was rejected in its second reading in the Lower House several months ago mainly due to serious opposition from the Christian Democrats who argued that it would undermine the institution of marriage. The new draft is to be modeled on a similar legislation in France.

Interior Ministry ordered to apologize for police brutality

A Prague court has ordered the Interior Ministry to write a letter of apology to one of the victims of a brutal police crack-down on the 1998 Global Street Party. Fifty-two year old Jana Zoubkova claims she was waiting for a tram in the city centre when the clashes between police and demonstrators broke out. According to two eyewitnesses she was attacked and brought to the ground by two police officers, sustaining head injuries in the assault. According to the witnesses the police continued to beat her even after she was lying on the ground in a dead faint. Zoubkova, whose medical record says she suffered severe emotional distress as a result of the experience had asked for a public apology in the media and 100,000 crowns in compensation. Her lawyer has said she will appeal the verdict. 18 other people have filed similar charges against the interior ministry but so far none have proved successful in eliciting even a simple apology.

Anti-nuclear demonstrators make themselves heard

Around three hundred people demonstrated outside the government building in Prague on Wednesday demanding a national referendum on the future of the Temelin nuclear power plant in Southern Bohemia. The demonstrators chanted anti nuclear slogans and played loud music while a government session was in progress, determined to remind the governing Social Democrats of forgotten promises about a referendum on issues of vital importance. The organizers, who claim that the Czech Republic does not need the nuclear power generated by Temelin, have collected 80,000 signatures from the public under a petition calling for a referendum. Deputy Prime Minister Pavel Rychetsky who eventually emerged to talk to the protesters said their demands were legitimate but unrealistic since a referendum law could not possibly get approved in time. He did say however that the Cabinet might debate the issue once again and vote on whether the plant should be made operational at the beginning of September as planned. Past votes have been on whether or not to complete the plant, with the vote swinging in the plant's favour on the grounds that it had been too costly to be abandoned at this late stage.

Solana promises: no second-class members in the future EU

The EU's Security and Foreign Affairs Commissioner Javier Solana has assured Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan that the future expanded EU would be a flexible and open organization with no elite groups or second-class members. Solana also offered to come to Prague to assist in the Czech government's EU campaign to raise public awareness of what EU membership would entail. The one-on-one meeting in Luxembourg, took place at the start of a new round of negotiations with 12 candidate states. Focussing on agricultural policy, these talks are seen as one of the most difficult hurdles in the accession process.

Czech Republic may impose visas on Canadian nationals

The possibility of the Czech Republic's re-imposing visa requirements on Canadian nationals remains open. Contradicting an earlier statement by Canada's ambassador to Prague Ronald Halpin, Czech foreign ministry spokesman Ales Pospisil told newsmen on Wednesday that the Czech authorities were still seriously considering effecting a reciprocal measure. Canada renewed visa requirements for Czechs three years ago in the wake of a massive Romany exodus from the Czech Republic.

Havel praises Korean summit

President Vaclav Havel has welcomed the landmark Korean summit as a major step towards easing half a century of Cold War tensions on the divided peninsula . In a statement from his hospital bed, where he is recovering from surgery, the Czech President hailed the summit and the pact aimed at building confidence between the estranged neighbours as a major foreign policy achievement which heralds greater stability in the region and the world. I am hopeful that this marks the beginning of a new era in North and South Korean relations, the President said.

Drugs smugglers caught at border crossing

Slovak border patrols have detained two Czech nationals caught smuggling 26 kg of heroin across the Slovak-Ukrainian border. The drug was hidden deep in the bowels of the car and was presumably bound for the Western market via the so-called Balkans drug route. In the Czech Republic it would have sold for 750 million crowns. The smugglers face a prison sentence of two to eight years.

VISIT CZECH- seminar

Last minute preparations are being made for the opening of VISIT CZECH -a seminar intended to attract more tourists to the Czech Republic. Close to sixty Czech travel agencies, car-rentals and major hotels will be advertising their services to foreign representatives from 14 states. The seminar is the first of its kind. It opens on Thursday, June 15th and lasts through Saturday.

Finally a look at the weather :

We should get some relief from the sweltering heat in the next 24 hours. Thursday is expected to bring cloudy to overcast skies with rain in places and temps between 21 and 25 degs C. Friday's day temps should drop even further to between 14 and 18 degs C.