News Thursday, MAY 20th, 1999
Hello and a very warm welcome to you all from Radio Prague. I am Libor Kubik, and we start as usual with a look at the main news stories today. First the headlines.
The Czech government has sent letters to five western countries expressing interest in buying advanced fighter aircraft.
Defence Ministry Spokesman Milan Repka on Wednesday said the letters were sent to the governments of the United States, Britain, France, Sweden and Germany.
He declined to give the exact number of planes the Czechs intend to buy, but a plan widely discussed in recent years calls for the purchase of between 24 and 36 aircraft to replace the current ageing fleet of Soviet-made MiG 21s.
Czech President Vaclav Havel has fallen ill with a viral chest infection and has cancelled his official schedule for the rest of the week.
His spokesman Ladislav Spacek has said the 62-year-old president has symptoms of a virus and is being treated at home.
But his doctors have said the fever which he developed on Wednesday has receded. They said Havel may have become exhausted after a demanding official schedule in recent weeks.
Last summer, Havel contracted pneumonia following surgery to remove a colostomy bag he was fitted with when his large intestine ruptured during a holiday in Austria more than a year ago. While fighting the pneumonia he needed electrical shocks to regulate his heartbeat.
Doctors have been regularly monitoring Havel since he required surgery to remove a small malignant tumour from his lungs in late 1996.
Parliament in Vienna has asked Austria's government to step up its campaign to persuade the Czech Republic not to go ahead with the launching of its controversial Temelin nuclear power plant in southern Bohemia.
Members of parliament for Austria's ruling Social Democratic Party said in a resolution that Vienna should intensify its pressure in all spheres, including the European Union, which the Czech Republic wants to join.
Temelin, which the Czech government said last week must be completed, is being viewed in Austria as a potential risk.
Senator Michael Zantovsky has called for a thorough review of the security aspects of a planned sale of Czech nuclear power plant components to Iran.
Zantovsky, who is chairman of the Senate's Foreign Affairs Committee, described the news that Iran wants to acquire nuclear engineering parts from the Czech Republic as an alarming development. He said cooperation with countries such as Iran was problematic and risky.
Wednesday's Mlada Fronta Dnes daily reported that Czech authorities have no objections to the transaction, which is being arranged by Russian firms. Western firms have withdrawn from the bid upon insistence from their governments, who fear Iran might use the equipment to develop an atomic weapon.
The Czech government says it is opposed to any land invasion of Yugoslavia and would not send troops to participate in any such operation.
President Bill Clinton has said NATO cannot rule out a ground offensive in Kosovo. Czech government spokesman Libor Roucek said on Wednesday that there still is ample room for negotiations on ending the conflict by other than military means.
The Chief of the Czech Army's General Staff, Jiri Sedivy, is convinced that a ground offensive by NATO forces in Yugoslavia would be an extreme solution.
In an interview to Czech Radio on Wednesday, General Sedivy said he preferred a diplomatic solution to the Yugoslav conflict.
A group of more than 130 Kosovo Albanian refugees has been flown to the Czech Republic, bringing the number of ethnic Albanian asylum-seekers in this country to over 820.
The refugees have been flown from the Macedonian Stankovac-2 camp to the North Moravian city of Ostrava. The flight on board an army transport plane carried 45 children and a heavily pregnant woman.
In a related development, the Czech Red Cross is dispatching five tons of emergency relief aid to the Balkans. The shipment of blankets, drinking-water canisters and washing powder is destined for the Albanian port of Durres.
Last week, the Czech Red Cross sent to Albania half a million crowns' worth of antibiotics and other medicines.
The World of Books '99 fair opens in Prague on Thursday, attended by 600 exhibitors from 19 countries.
The four-day event the fifth in as many years is organised by the Czech Association of Booksellers and Publishers. Its keynote this year the cultural and literary history of France. One of the guests of honour is the legendary Italian mountaineer and author Reinhold Messner.
And finally, a quick look at the weather.
Thursday will be a rather wet day with some scattered thunderstorms. Night-time lows between eight and 12 degrees Celsius, daytime highs from 19 to 23 degrees.
On Friday and Saturday, the Czech Republic will be under the influence of a low-pressure area, which will bring more rain and daytime temperatures between 16 and 20 degrees on both days.
I am Libor Kubik and that's the end of the news.