News Thursday, NOVEMBER 18th, 1999

Good morning from Radio Prague. I am Libor Kubik and here's the news. First the headlines:

Those were the main points, now the news in more detail.


A group of student leaders from 1989 gathered on Prague's Narodni Street on Wednesday to sign a petition calling for the first generation of post-Communist leaders, including President Vaclav Havel, to step aside, saying their system was again in rut.

This happened after Czech leaders and a huge crowd took part in a ceremony in Prague on Wednesday to mark the 10th anniversary of the "velvet revolution " -- the bloodless removal of Czechoslovakia's communist regime.

The petitioners called on Havel, Prime Minister Milos Zeman and main opposition leader Vaclav Klaus to free up positions for those who will have the strength, consideration and ability to take their country into the third millennium.


Former international leaders on Wednesday received the highest state honour, the Order of the White Lion, from President Vaclav Havel for their roles in restoring democracy.

The awardees, who gathered at Prague Castle, included former U.S. and Soviet presidents George Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev, former German chancellor Helmut Kohl, former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, and former Polish president Lech Walesa. The late French president, Francois Mitterrand, was honoured posthumously.

President Havel told them that the collapse of communism was a challenge for the human race to deeply reflect on the values of responsibility.


Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev categorically denied on Wednesday that he ordered the KGB 10 years ago to start dismantling communism in Czechoslovakia.

Gorbachev said in Prague that this would have been his suicide. He was reacting to analyst speculations that his aim in November 1989 was to launch a rebirth of socialism in this country after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

He said that two years later, it was the KGB which masterminded his ouster and staged a coup to destroy the Soviet Union.


Lady Thatcher on Wednesday unveiled a statue in Prague of Winston Churchill, the British wartime leader seen by many Czechs as a symbol of freedom.

A huge crowd watched the unveiling of the monument in Churchill Square as part of celebrations to mark the 10th anniversary of the overthrow of communism.

Paraphrasing one of Churchill's World War Two speeches, Thatcher said the statue would remind Czechs that the costs for liberty are sweat, blood and tears and that liberty must live forever on this planet.

The statue, a copy of one in London's Parliament Square, was erected through the efforts of a Prague district town hall and a private foundation.

Churchill was depicted by Czechoslovakia's former communist rulers as responsible for isolating the eastern bloc from the West with the so-called "Iron Curtain", a phrase he coined.


Prague's 650-year-old Charles University on Wednesday presented an honorary doctorate of philosophy to former U.S. President George Bush, citing his part in promoting democracy and ending the Cold War.

Our correspondent says Czechs have widely praised Bush for helping to put pressure on the Soviet Union to disengage from central and eastern Europe, allowing for the end of totalitarian rule.

Bush said Czechs today still faced challenges of completing privatisation and other tough economic and regulatory reform.

But he said that for the United States, one of the challenges it faced was staying engaged with trusted friends around the world like the Czech Republic.


Former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who on Wednesday received freedom of the City of Prague, said he wished for the Czech Republic to become an EU member as soon as possible.

He said the house of Europe would be incomplete without a Czech room in it, and that Prague had always been one of Europe's most important capitals.

Kohl and the other former leaders on Wednesday attended the opening of a two-day conference in the Spanish Hall of the Prague Castle, passing under the keynote "Ten Years After -- Facing a New Millennium. us.