News Thursday, OCTOBER 19th, 2000

By Libor Kubik

Govt. budget on frontline in parliament

Behind-the-scenes budget talks have reached a climax in advance of a scheduled first reading of the 2001 budget bill in the Czech parliament, which is due to take place today.

The negotiations are key to the continuation of the so-called Tolerance Pact -- a power-sharing agreement between the ruling Social Democrats and the leading opposition Civic Democrats. Both parties will meet this morning.

The proposed 16-billion-dollar budget is scheduled for a first reading in the Lower House later in the day.

Observers say the debates are nothing more than political posturing ahead of Senate elections in November.

The pact was concluded during budget talks last year, and has been credited with preventing deadlock between the government and the Civic Democrat opposition.

The Civic Democrats are pressuring the government to cap its planned deficit at 20 billion crowns, or half a billion dollars -- the same as the current year's deficit.

Czech, Austrian govt. chiefs to meet about nuclear row

The Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman and Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel plan to meet in Brno on October 31 to discuss the controversial Czech nuclear power plant at Temelin. The announcement was followed by an Austrian parliament resolution asking Mr Schuessel to try and prevent Temelin's putting on- line.

But Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan has said Prague's precondition for the meeting is that there should be no blockade on the Austrian side of border crossings to his country.

Mr Kavan was speaking to reporters after talks in Brussels with the European Union's enlargement commissioner Guenter Verheugen, who is mediating in the dispute between the two states. The Czech foreign minister said that if there were any more blockades, there would be no such meeting.

Mr Verheugen said that border blockades neither boosted dialogue nor benefited the free movement of goods.

Austrian anti-nuclear activists last week blockaded border crossing points while the government in Vienna expressed concern over the safety at Temelin where the first reactor was launched this month despite Austrian protests.

Dalai Lama says may postpone visit to Taiwan

Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, has said during a visit to Prague he might postpone, but not cancel, a forthcoming visit to Taiwan.

The Buddhist leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner said his contacts with China might be restored, adding that there were slightly positive signs now.

The Dalai Lama was one of the influential thinkers from all over the world invited to Prague by Czech President Vaclav Havel to attend the annual Forum 2000, sponsored by the Czech head of state.

The conference ended on Wednesday by issuing a plea to Israel and the Palestinians to end violence and sit down at the negotiating table. The message will be delivered to the Middle East by former Portuguese president Mario Soares.

Czech fuel prices up

The biggest Czech fuel refinery, Ceska Rafinerska, has increased its prices of petrol and diesel.

Petrol went up one crown per litre and diesel by 70 hellers. The refinery says this is due to the current Israeli-Palestinian tensions, expensive crude oil and a strong U.S. dollar.

Czech Finance Minister Pavel Mertlik says the government would consider road tax breaks for environmentally save vehicles. However, the truckers' association CESMAD has said such a move wouldn't go far enough in the wake of the current fuel price hikes.

Czech weather report

Thursday will be a wet day here in the Czech Republic with early morning lows between six and ten degrees Celsius and afternoon highs between 12 and 16 degrees.

Friday's lows will be from five to nine Celsius, daytime highs between 13 and 17 degrees, and there'll be scattered showers throughout the day.

Saturday's morning lows will be from four to eight degrees, daytime highs between 13 and 17 Celsius but only about 11 degrees where the skies remain cloudy. Again, brace yourselves for a very wet day.