News Thursday, NOVEMBER 11th, 1999

Hello and welcome to the programme. I'm Nick Carey and this is the news. First, a look at the headlines.

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

Parliament approves first reading of constitutional amendment

The Czech lower house of parliament gave its preliminary approval yesterday to a constitutional amendment that will remove the powers of the president to nominate prime ministers and board members for the central bank. If passed, the amendment, which is the brainchild of the ruling Social Democrats and the opposition Civic Democrats, will mean that the party that receives the highest percentage of the vote will have the right to try to form a government, and the cabinet, the lower house and the Senate will get to select three board members each for the central bank. The two smaller centre-right parties in the lower house, the Christian Democrats and the Freedom Union, proposed a motion to dismiss the amendment, but this was defeated easily, as the Social Democrats and Civic Democrats have a comfortable majority in the lower house. President Vaclav Havel is against the amendment, and says that he cannot imagine how he will be able to fulfil his duties if it is passed.

Verheugen says he wants EU expansion to take place by 2005

On his arrival in the Czech Republic yesterday, the EU commissioner for enlargement, Gunter Verheugen, stated that he would like to see the first wave of EU expansion take place by 2005, within the current commission's lifetime. Verheugen believes that the Czechs have been too pessimistic in their interpretation of the commission's report, released last month, on Czech preparations for EU membership and he praised the general support of political parties in the Czech Republic for EU membership. Verheugen is due to meet with Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman, opposition leader Vaclav Klaus and Roma representatives today.

Parliament rejects health law

The lower house of parliament rejected an amendments to extend the law on public health insurance yesterday. This took place despite the assurances of Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla that the prime minister would remove Health Minister Ivan David, whose future in the government has been uncertain for some time now, from his post. The centre-right parties had stated that their support for the amendment was dependent upon David's removal. Both the deputy prime minister and the health minister warned parliamentary deputies that if they rejected the amendment, then the healthcare system faces financial collapse next year. The current law is only valid until the end of 1999, and some politicians believe that if this law expires without a replacement in place, then a financial collapse is inevitable. Prime Minister Milos Zeman, on a state visit to Germany has apparently stated that he will replace Ivan David as health minister with Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla.

Russians say there is no evidence that gold was seized

The Russian Foreign Ministry claims that it has no evidence to prove that at the end of the Second World War the Red Army removed 396 kilograms of gold from the Czech National Bank as spoils of war. According to the Czech Foreign Ministry, the Red Army removed this gold, which belonged to Jewish victims of the Holocaust, plus items of value from various Prague banks. The Czech Foreign Ministry sent the Russians a letter last week requesting that negotiations should be held to return the gold to its rightful owners. The Russian Foreign Ministry's spokesman, Vladimir Rachmanin, said that his ministry does not possess any materials that would confirm the claims made by the Czechs in their letter, and said that this letter itself did not provide any proof either. Rachmanin said that nothing concrete has been decided at this point, but that a bi-lateral meeting should be arranged to settle the matter.

Committee chooses Erste Bank for state-owned stake in Ceska Sporitelna

The committee in charge of the privatisation of Czech banks has recommended to the finance minister that Austria's Erste Bank be allowed to purchase the state's stake in Ceska Sporitelna, one of the Czech Republic's largest banks. The committee has been negotiating exclusively with Erste Bank for the deal, and has also asked that this period of exclusivity be extended to continue negotiations. The committee believes that a contract for the sale of the fifty-two percent stake in the Czech bank be signed by the end of January 2000.

Zeman praises attitude of German government to the Czech Republic

Prime Minister Milos Zeman has praised the efforts of the current German government, which is a coalition of the Social Democrats and Greens, in trying to improve Czech-German relations. This is completely unlike the attitude of the right-of-centre opposition Christian Democratic Party, which wants to dissolve the Benes Decrees, which were issued at the end of the Second World War and led to the expulsion of all Sudeten Germans from Czechoslovakia. On a visit to Berlin to celebrate the ten-year anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the prime minister said that German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder had told him that the German government was against dissolving the Benes Decrees. The two leaders apparently agreed that it was unnecessary to go back into the past. Zeman in particular praised the chairman of the German federal parliament, Wolfgang Thierse, who had prepared the resolution calling for better relations with the Czech Republic.

Rychetsky asks Roma to call of protest

According to leading Roma representatives, Deputy Prime Minister Pavel Rychetsky has sent them a letter in which he has called on them to call of their protest demonstration over the Maticni Street wall. The wall was built last month to separate a housing estate of paying residents and a predominantly Roma non-paying housing estate. The wall has been the source of much controversy, and as of Thursday last week representatives of Roma groups from around the country have been camping night and day at the wall to protest against it. The deputy prime minister has apparently asked the Roma to call of the protest ahead of talks that will take place this Friday with Prime Minister Milos Zeman. The fifteen or so leading Roma representatives who are still camping out on Maticni Street, however, say that they will decide whether to continue with their protest demonstration after they meet with the prime minister.


The weather today promises to be fairly miserable. We should see overcast skies with rain showers in places, which will fall as snow in hilly areas. Maximum temperatures should reach eight degrees centigrade. And that was the news.