News Thursday, MARCH 19th, 1998

Radio Prague E-news date: March 19th, 1998 written/read by: Daniela Lazarova

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 :

Corruption scandal

The opposition Social Democrats have demanded a speedy police investigation into the corruption scandal which now surrounds them. Czech television on Tuesday reported the existence of a contract between the Social Democrats and a group of Czech businessmen in Switzerland enabling them to influence Czech politics in exchange for financial assistance. At a press briefing in Prague Wednesday party leader Milos Zeman said the copy of the agreement he had received was quite obviously a fake and that the party was pressing charges against the unknown offender responsible. The party does not deny having negotiated with the group of businessmen on several occasions in 1995 but it claims that no agreement was ever reached on any kind of cooperation.

Czech-EU trade row

The Czech Cabinet on Wednesday expressed regret over the European Union's decision to suspend preferential import tariffs on pork, poultry and fruit juice from the Czech Republic in retaliation of Czech quotas on apple imports from EU member states. The Cabinet regrets the worsening of relations and is prepared to go back to the negotiating table to review the matter. We still see the EU retaliation measures as an over-reaction, government spokesman Vladimir Mlynar told the press.

Meanwhile, Daniel Kroupa, co-chairman of the joint Czech-EU parliamentary association committee has expressed the view that the Czech government blundered over the imposed apple quotas which have resulted in a trade row with the European Union. Kroupa said after a session of the joint committee today that the Czech government should have proceeded with greater diplomacy in the matter and focused on reaching a bilateral agreement rather than implementing a unilateral measure. It is to be hoped that this will be a lesson to future administrations, Kroupa added. A joint statement issued by the committee appeals to both sides to renew talks and resolve the dispute. The Reuters newsagency notes the row could mar the start of membership talks between the Czech Republic and the EU.

Havel - Olsson

The idea that Czech - EU membership talks could be marred by this development was however firmly rejected at a meeting between President Havel and Karl Olsson, co-chairman of the joint Czech-EU parliamentary association committee Wednesday. Olsson emphasized the fact that disputes such as this were bound to crop up every now and then. It would be a mistake to overrate the significance of this row, Olsson noted. It will have no effect on our primary goal which is a united Europe. The two officials agreed that improving communication between the EU and the Czech Republic would help avoid confrontations such as this.

Senate - drugs

The Czech Senate on Wednesday approved a law which will make possession of drugs a criminal offense. The legislation will go into effect as of 1999 and punishment will range from a heavy fine to 5 years imprisonment. Its advocates insist the country must abandon its liberal policy in order to meet EU norms, while its opponents claim the effect of the law will only make drugs more expensive, enrich drugs cartels, boost corruption and scare away drug addicts from seeking professional help.

And finally a look at the weather :

a cold front moving in from the north west is expected to influence the weather across the Czech republic Thursday. Broken clouds will yield scattered showers and day temps should range from 2 to 6 degs C. Nighttime lows at around zero.