News Thursday, MARCH 18th, 1999

Hello and welcome to the programme. I'm DL and we begin as usual with a look at the main newsstories this hour

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

Czech Republic and Bulgaria sign agreements

A delegation of Czech government officials headed by prime minister Milos Zeman is undertaking a three day mission to Bulgaria and Romania. A round of talks in the Bulgarian capital Sofia on Wednesday ended with the signing of an agreement on the protection of investments and one on cooperation in fighting organized crime. Prime minister Zeman and his Bulgarian counterpart Ivan Kostov spent a great deal of time discussing measures which might help curb illegal migration without necessitating the introduction of visa requirements. The two country's premiers also debated the situation in Kosovo, expressing support for the proposed peace-plan and stressing that attempts to reach a settlement cannot be protracted indefinitely.

Chile's president says: leave Pinochet to us

Chile alone has the right to judge the country's former dictator Augusto Pinochet, visiting Chilean president Eduardo Frei stressed at a press briefing in Prague on Wednesday. Standing alongside President Vaclav Havel after their meeting, Frei said that similarly as Chile did not presume to judge communist crimes committed in the Czech Republic other states had no right to judge Chile's past. Similarly as the Czech Republic we will settle with the past, and it is our right to settle with it as we think best, Frei told journalists. The Chilean president later met with leading representatives of both houses of Parliament. During talks with the Speaker of the Senate Libuse Benesova the two sides agreed that a transition from a totalitarian regime to a democratic state required a great deal of political prudence. A peaceful transition comes at a certain cost, Benesova told newsmen later. One needs to search for political compromise and it is of uppermost importance to place the law above the need for political revenge. Meanwhile, the Chilean president's meeting with the Speaker of the Lower House Vaclav Klaus focused almost exclusively on economic matters.

The Chilean presidential couple are here on a three day state visit, and while President Frei has been meeting with Czech top officials the First Lady Martha Frei has devoted her time to charities, accompanied by Czech First lady Dagmar Havel.

EU negotiator sounds wake up call

The European Commission's chief negotiator with the Czech Republic Michael Leigh has criticized the country for lagging behind in preparations for EU membership. Czech envoy to Brussels Pavel Telicka confirmed that this was indeed the case in several areas but he added that the delay in meeting the planned schedule was "a delay in terms of weeks". Neither official specified in which areas the Czech Republic has been falling behind. The country's progress is to be closely scrutinized by EU officials in the coming days. At the press briefing Michael Leigh likewise confirmed that the resignation of the EU's executive commission would have no adverse effect on accession talks with EU candidates.

Sitting opposite Russia is novel feeling

The Czech Republic, together with Poland and Hungary, on Wednesday attended a session of NATO's permanent commission for relations with Russia. Czech ambassador to NATO Karel Kovanda said it was a novel experience for the former Warsaw Pact states, but he emphasized that the meeting had been conducted in a cordial atmosphere. Both sides reaffirmed their interest in maintaining good relations, Kovanda said. The joint commission for NATO-Russian relations was set up in May of 1997 in an effort to prevent the alienation of Russia.

NATO general forced to land in Caslavy

On an inspection visit to the Czech Republic, the chief of the allied air forces for central Europe general John Jumper, praised the Czech air force saying it would become a worthy partner in the alliance. The general watched Czech pilots in action even before arriving in the Czech Republic since, at his prior request, two Czech fighter planes were commanded to bring the general's DC-9 plane to a mock-forced landing at the Caslavy military air base.

Klaus bashes Kuzvart over Temelin

Lower House Speaker and Civic Democratic Party leader Vaclav Klaus has severely criticized environment minister Milos Kuzvart for his attitude regarding the Temelin nuclear power plant in southern Bohemia. Klaus was especially incensed over the environment minister's alleged statement that /quote/ Temelin would never be anything a monster, a national shame and a monumental scarecrow. The ex-premier who favours Temelin's completion said that Kuzvart's extremist stand was in direct conflict with his position as cabinet minister for as such it was his duty to defend public interests and he had failed to take into consideration the social and economic aspects of the problem.

The Czech cabinet was to have debated Temelin's fate at its Wednesday session, but the planned debate had to be put off since 9 of the 19 cabinet ministers were not present, including the premier himself . The decision on Temelin is too important for the Cabinet to make in the absence of so many key ministers, vice-premier Vladimir Spidla told newsmen later. He did not say for when the Temelin debate had been re-scheduled. The cabinet's debate on Temelin will be a highly controversial one since the ministers are divided on the issue. Some are inclined to act on the recommendations of an independent, international team of experts who are by and large against Temelin's completion, others such as industry minister Gregr will fight tooth and nail to see the plant completed.

Kavan in Denmark

Czech foreign minister Jan Kavan on Thursday begins an official visit to Denmark, his first foreign visit since the Czech Republic entered NATO. Kavan's scheduled talks with the Danish foreign minister Niels Petersen and defense minister Hans Hakkerup will focus on the Czech Republic's membership in NATO, the situation is Kosovo and the state of bilateral relations. Denmark is a founding member of NATO, while it did not become an EU member until 1973. It supports the expansion of both organizations.

Kuzvart in Poland

Czech environment minister Milos Kuzvart and his Polish counterpart Jan Szysko are to attend the first session of a recently established joint commission for environmental matters on Thursday. The commission, which was established on the ground of a bilateral agreement signed by the two governments last year, is to deal with common environmental problems, conditions which need to be met in view of future EU membership and long-term environmental policy.

Congressman Smith waiting for action

US Congressman Christopher Smith, who chairs the committee for cooperation with Europe, has criticized the Czech Parliament for voting against a bill which would have given Czech-born Americans restitution rights in the Czech Republic. At present restitution rights for Czech-Americans are linked to Czech citizenship, effectively ruling out the vast majority of our ex-pats. The bill was rejected after meeting with strong disapproval from the social democrats, communists and approximately half of the Civic Democratic Party's deputies in the Lower House. Congressman Smith expressed the hope that the Czech government would now seek other ways to end what he called "the discrimination of Czech-Americans".

US rabbis visit Czech Republic

A delegation of the North America Board of Rabbis which is in the Czech Republic on a three day visit was today received by vice premier Egon Lansky and later culture minister Zdenek Novak. According to a government spokesman they discussed a wide range of issues relating to life in this country, but restitution of Jewish property was not mentioned. The delegation of ten rabbis expressed appreciation of the way the state was maintaining the Jewish legacy and offered to help promote the Czech cultural legacy in the United States.

Finally a look at the weather: Thursday is expected to be partly cloudy to overcast with scattered sleet or snow showers in the higher altitudes. Day temp between 3 and 7 degs. Nighttime lows between 2 and minus 6 degs C.