News Thursday, MARCH 11th, 1999

Good morning and welcome to Radio Prague. Those were the headlines and now the news in more detail, read by Libor Kubik.


The Czech foreign ministry has described Iranian President Khatami's current visit to Italy as a step in the right direction but expressed regret over the continuing absence of Tehran's ambassador to Prague in protest against Radio Free Europe's Persian broadcasts from Czech territory.

Khatami is the first Iranian head of state to have visited a Western country since the Islamic revolution 20 years ago.

The ministry has described his visit as a further confirmation of the positive trend started by Iran's general elections in 1997. It said talks were in progress with Tehran to resolve the situation arising from the Iranian envoy's absence from Prague.


Scores of predominantly young people staged a protest on Wednesday outside the Chinese embassy in Prague over Beijing's alleged violation of human rights in Tibet.

Their protest marked the 40th anniversary of the brutal suppression of a Tibetan uprising against Communist China.

Several protesters, including Senator Daniel Kroupa, tried to hand over protest petitions to Chinese embassy officials but they were not allowed to enter the embassy compound in Western Prague.

More than 80 Czech and Moravian municipalities hoisted the white- red-blue flag of Tibet in remembrance of the atrocities committed by China 40 years ago.


The Social Democrat Czech government has passed a draft legislation which would allow persons of the same sex to formalise their relationship before a notary. Only one member of the cabinet was against the legislation, which was drafted by all parliamentary parties with the exception of the Christian Democrats.

Our correspondent says this legislation would enable gay and lesbian couples to exercise most of the property and social rights enjoyed by married couples.

The draft recognises the right of same-gender couples to receive pensions on behalf of a deceased partner, to rent housing as families, and similar benefits sanctioned by law.


Czech Interior Minister Vaclav Grulich, who was rushed to hospital before a crucial government meeting last week, will stay there for at least a couple of weeks.

Doctors at Prague's Military Hospital say it was a combination of the flu, exhaustion and liver problems caused by Mr Grulich's diabetes that caused his breakdown last week.

He is being fed intravenously and is administered medication to stabilise his condition.

There have been speculations that his illness is much graver than admitted.


The chairman of the Czech Freedom Fighters Union, Jakub Cermin, has said that Czechs are not well versed in their own history and have no national pride.

Cermin was speaking on Wednesday at a seminar to mark the 60th anniversary of his country's occupation by the Nazis at the start of the Second World War. The anniversary falls on Monday, March 15th.

Cermin said Czechs should cultivate a stronger sense of togetherness now that they are going to join NATO and are striving to become members of the European Union.

He said that for a small nation like the Czech Republic, membership of these organisations was a security that tragedies such as the Nazi occupation will never happen again.


U.S. Ambassador to NATO Alexander Wershbow has said that although the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland have not met all the military requirements for NATO membership, the pace of their integration is satisfactory and the United States believes that the decision by NATO's Madrid Summit two years ago to invite them to join was sound.

Wershbow said Washington had never expected the armed forces of the three states to instantly become as efficient as the German Bundeswehr. But the United States had closely monitored their performance during peacekeeping missions in Bosnia, and concluded that their accession into NATO, scheduled to take place on Friday, is a fully warranted move.


Russia said on Wednesday it had made progress in talks with NATO on modifying the Cold War-era Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe and hoped to have goals agreed with the Western alliance by the end of March.

Russia has long said it hopes to have principles drawn up for a new CFE agreement before NATO's summit in Washington in April, when the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland formally join the alliance.


Our correspondent reports that a few hours before NATO's first post-Cold War enlargement, the venue of the admission ceremony, the city of Independence in the state of Missouri, remains largely unconcerned, and few residents know what auspicious ceremony will take place there on Friday.

Foreign Ministers of the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland are to present documents confirming their accession to NATO into the hands of U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

Ms. Albright is expected to make a speech which observers point out can have far-reaching international implications.


Italian Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema arrives in Prague on Thursday for talks on the process of European integration. His visit was to have taken place last Month but was postponed due to Mr D'Alema's cold.

He is scheduled to meet with Czech Premier Milos Zeman and President Vaclav Havel

The incumbent Czech government has repeatedly expressed interest in sharing Italy's experience with its massive anti-corruption drive in implementing its own Clean Hands campaign to stamp out economic crime.


The American citizen Steven Roach, who is suspected of having tortured teenagers in his private Morava Academy education institution near Brno, is still at large.

Police said on Wednesday they believe he has fled the country to avoid criminal investigation. If found guilty, he could go to jail for up to eight years.

A police source said Roach may have secretly returned to the United States. His wife and two instructors are facing the same charges. Roach, the only member of the team to have spent some time in police custody, was released on bail last year.


Almost 70 percent of Czechs favour the re-introduction of the death penalty, abolished after the collapse of the Communist regime in their country almost 10 years ago.

A poll conducted by the government-funded IVVM agency and released on Wednesday shows that Czechs support stiff penalties for especially brutal crimes.

One Czech in five is against the capital punishment, most frequently citing fears of judicial murder. Just under 80 percent of those polled believe that the age limit for legal liability should be lower than 15 years, as the case is now.

I am Libor Kubik and that's the end of the news.