News Thursday, MARCH 09th, 2000

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Hello and a very warm welcome to Radio Prague. I'm David Vaughan. First the headlines.

Those were the headlines. Now the news in more detail.

Iran export blocked

The opposition Communists have said that they will take the issue to the Constitutional Court if the upper house of parliament approves a bill blocking a controversial export deal for the Iranian Bushehr nuclear power plant. The bill was put forward by the government after the United States and Britain expressed concern that the deal could help Iran's nuclear arms programme, and it was passed yesterday by the lower house of parliament. The Communists are unhappy because the bill was rushed through parliament without the usual lengthy process of debate. During her visit to Prague this week, US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, thanked the Czech government for its commitment to stopping the deal.

Palestinian Minister

The Palestinian Minister for planning and international cooperation, Nabil Sas, is in Prague today for talks on deeping contacts with the Czech Republic. He is holding talks with the Foreign and Finance Ministers aimed at continuing Czech development aid for the Palestinian autonomous territory and at increasing trade contacts. Earlier this year the Israeli Foreign Minister also visited the Czech Republic.

French Senate Chairman

On a visit to Prague the Chairman of the French Senate, Christian Poncelet, has defended President Havel's controversial suggestion that a second chamber of the European Parliament be established. He described the two-chamber parliamentary system as a guarantee of democracy, and said that a European Senate would increase the balance of power on the continent. When the Czech President visited Strasbourg last month, Euro-MPs gave a luke- warm response to his suggestion that a Euro-Senate be established.

Plaque unveiled on Charles Bridge

Prague’s historic Charles Bridge has witnessed an unusual gesture of Christian-Jewish reconciliation. In the presence of a number of Rabbis from the United States and a Czech Roman Catholic Bishop, a plaque was unveiled explaining the historical context of a seventeenth century anti-Semitic inscription in Hebrew that adorns the bridge. To this day the inscription causes offense to many Jewish visitors. Prague's mayor, Jan Kasl, said that the ceremony was important in showing that the city is open to all faiths.

Unemployment

The latest unemployment figures reveal an unexpected fall in the number of people looking for a job in the Czech Republic. The fall by one decimal point to 9.7 percent, has been attributed to a gradual recovery of the Czech economy and to a significant increase in the level of foreign investment. However some observers have argued that the rate is likely to rise again, when a number of struggling industrial plants announce further redundancies.

Crown Falls

In the course of trading yesterday the Czech Crown fell to an all time low against the US dollar of 37.28 to the dollar, only recovering slightly by the end of the day. The fall was attributed to the continued weakness of the Euro against the dollar on world markets, in expectation of a rise in US interest rates.

Strikes

Wednesday’s series of lightning strikes and protests caused less disruption than originally expected, although over a hundred trains were brought to a halt for several minutes, and a blockade briefly stopped traffic on the main motorway through Prague. The protests were organised by the Association of Independent Trade Unions, which represents nearly a quarter of a million Czech workers, They were protesting at backlogs in the payment of wages, growing unemployment and planned pension and social security reforms.

Inflation

The Czech National Bank has welcomed newly published figures for February putting the annual inflation rate at 3.7 percent. A board member said that the relatively low figure proves that inflationary pressures are not too strong and inflation has settled at an acceptable level. He added that the main pressure currently is coming from oil prices which are rising internationally. Figures have also just been published, showing that Czech exports to the European Union have risen by nearly a third over the last twelve months.

New Senate Association

The chairwoman of the upper house of parliament or Senate, Libuse Benesova, and her French counterpart, Christian Poncelet, have set up an association representing Senates around Europe. Meeting in Prague they said they hoped that twenty countries would eventually join, and they firmly defended a two-chamber parliamentary system, describing it as a guarantee of democracy. In the Czech Republic there have often been calls for the Senate to be abolished, primarily because of the costs of sustaining a two-chamber system.

FBI in the Czech Republic

The United States is to open an office of the FBI, here in Prague. The US Ambassador, John Shattuck, said that the issue was discussed during this week’s visit by the Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. He added that the office should be open by the end of this year, and that its main task will be to help the Czech police in their battle against organised crime and money laundering.

Weather

And as usual I'll end with a glance at the weather

We can expect another cloudy day with showers, but it will be warm with maximum temperatures up to 12 degrees Celsius. And I’m afraid the rain looks likely to stay with us into the weekend.