News Thursday, JUNE 17th, 1999

Hello and welcome to Radio Prague. I´m Rob Cameron, first a look at the news headlines.

Those were the headlines, now for the news in more detail.

NATO welcomes decision to send more troops to Balkans

NATO has welcomed the decision by the Czech Chamber of Deputies to increase the country's contribution to the K-FOR peacekeeping force in Kosovo. A NATO official, who asked not to be named, told the Czech News Agency that the decision was a welcome contribution to the effort to strengthen peace and security in Kosovo. He added, however, that the alliance was for the meantime only planning to use the original 150-man unit proposed by the cabinet. A military source said it was too late to change K-FOR´s plans in Kosovo, but that the extra troops would probably be used in several months´ time. The Czech lower house decided on Tuesday to increase the country´s contribution to a battalion of up to 800 troops. Most government MPs joined the three centre-right opposition parties which dominate the lower house to approve the resolution. However Premier Milos Zeman accused the opposition of hypocrisy for refusing to raise the state budget deficit to finance the increased contingent. The Senate foreign committee has already approved the plan, and the upper house will vote on it later today.

People in Need to reopen Pristina branch

Meanwhile the Czech humanitarian organisation People in Need has announced it plans to reopen its branch in the Kosovo capital Pristina on July the first. Members of the organisation are to leave for Kosovo next week to prepare the offices for reopening. People in Need is to work alongside the UNHCR in Kosovo to provide humanitarian aid to refugees returning from Macedonia and Albania. A spokesman said the organisation wants to help rebuild schools and hospitals in the province. People in Need´s SOS Kosovo campaign has raised a total of 50 million crowns since the beginning of the crisis, and has sent several convoys of humanitarian aid to the Balkans. The organisation has also sent 25 volunteers to work in refugee camps in Albania.

Railway union criticises government privatisation plan

The leader of the country´s largest railway union, Jaromir Dusek, has sharply criticised government-proposed legislation to transform Czech Railways. Mr Dusek said the proposed legislation was in contravention to all the promises made by the Social Democrat government before last year´s elections. Mr Dusek said he could not rule out the possibility of strike action. He said the planned privatisation of some parts of Czech Railways would serve as a cover for asset-stripping of state property.

Jiri Ruzek appointed new head of BIS

The government has appointed Jiri Ruzek as the new head of the Czech counter- intelligence service, the BIS. His predecessor, Karel Vulterin, was sacked in January after BIS officers released the identity of a British MI6 agent stationed in Prague. The agent had criticised the BIS over its handling of the defection of a member of the Iraqi secret services. Mr Ruzek said after his appointment that his main task was bringing stability to the service.

Sladek denies Republicans heading for extinction

The leader of the extreme-right Republican Party Miroslav Sladek has denied his party is on the brink of extinction. The party suffered a shock setback in last June´s parliamentary elections, when it failed to garner the five percent minimum necessary to re-enter parliament. The Republicans have been denied twenty million crowns in state funding due to allegations that Mr Sladek and his colleagues had used the money to buy luxury cars and build villas. A number of former deputies have left the party amid claims that the leadership used extortion and violence to force members to give up their state salaries. Despite this Mr Sladek said the Republicans were continuing all the normal activities of a political party, and were still an important presence on the Czech political scene.


Finally a look at today´s weather. And it looks like more of the same cloudy and humid conditions, with patches of sunshine but also the chance of showers and storms in places. Daytime temperatures are expected to reach up to 25 degrees Celsius, falling to a low of 10 degrees at night.

And that´s the end of the news.