News Tuesday, APRIL 20th, 1999

Hello and a warm welcome to the programme. I'm David Vaughan. First the headlines.

And now the news in more detail.

NATO and Czech airfields

At a special sitting the Czech cabinet has approved the use of Czech airfields for refuelling by NATO aircraft taking part in air-strikes against Yugoslavia. The cabinet also agreed to allow both unarmed and armed NATO units to cross Czech territory in connection with operations in Kosovo, and to allow the transport of weaponry and other military equipment through the Czech Republic. The decision will still have to be approved by both houses of parliament.

Kavan distances himself from Albright

The Czech foreign minister, Jan Kavan, has distanced himself from a comment made by the US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on Sunday, that negotiation with Yugoslav President Milosevic is now out of the question. Mr Kavan said that given the reality of the situation in Yugoslavia, there is no other alternative than to talk with Mr Milosevic, however distasteful the prospect may seem.

Prime minister in Kazakhstan

The Czech prime minister, Milos Zeman, has signed a broad agreement with his counterpart in the Central Asian republic of Kazakhstan, Nurlan Balgimbayev, aimed at ensuring the repayment of Kazakhstan's long-standing debts to the Czech Republic. Part of the repayment will take the form of a fund to support Czech exports to the country, and the two sides also agreed to make some payments in natural gas. Mr Balgimbayev said that he hoped Mr Zeman's visit to the country would result in a new impulse to trade relations between the two countries. He said that Kazakhstan is particularly interested in attracting direct foreign investment. The Czech delegation, including three ministers and members of the Czech banking and business community, has now moved on to Uzbekistan, where trade relations are also high on the agenda of talks.

Further Czech talks with the EU

The Czech Republic has concluded its third round of accession talks with the European Union, aimed at sorting out different areas of integration. On Monday talks were successfully completed in telecommunications, statistics and fisheries, and the Czech Republic has now completed six of the thirty chapters in the process of "screening", leading up to membership. The country's chief negotiator in Brussels, Pavel Telicka, pointed out that the Czech Republic has fallen behind other front-line applicants by not yet completing the chapter devoted to industrial policy. But he added that a further slight delay would not be a disaster at this early stage.

Slovak Minister in Prague

On a visit to Prague the Slovak foreign minister, Eduard Kukan, has thanked his Czech counterpart, Jan Kavan, for the Czech Republic's support for Slovakia's bid to join NATO. He added that he hoped NATO representatives would take note of the new political situation in Slovakia when they discuss further expansion at the Washington summit this weekend. During talks with President Havel minister Kukan appealed to the president to lobby in Washington for each potential member country to be considered separately on its own merits.

Head of private television station sacked

Vladimir Zelezny, the director of the Czech Republic's largest and most successful private television station, TV Nova, has been sacked at the general meeting of the station's guarantor, the Czech Independent Television Company. A representative of the company said that Zelezny, who has been no stranger to controversy in recent years, had been removed because he had acted beyond his jurisdiction. Mr Zelezny has responded that he will fight the decision in the courts even if it means taking Nova off the air.

Refinery reports a fall in profits

The Czech oil refining company, Ceska rafinerska, has reported a fall in profits of over fifty percent for the last calendar year. Nonetheless post-tax profits for the first quarter of this year still amounted to 179 million crowns. The firm has attributed the decline to a global fall in oil prices throughout 1998 and to a fall in petrol consumption within the Czech Republic.

Mayor calls for sacking

The mayor of the North Bohemian town of Usti nad Labem has called for the government's human rights commissioner, Petr Uhl, to be sacked. He accused Mr Uhl of systematically damaging the town's reputation and interests, in connection with a long-running row over the city council's plans to build a wall separating an estate lived in mainly by Romanies from the houses on the other side of the street. Human rights organisations have accused the local authority of racism, and both Mr Uhl and the government have also publicly condemned the plan. The situation was recently further complicated, when representatives of local Romani residents themselves agreed to approve the wall's construction.

Ministers to meet

The defence ministers of the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary are to meet in Prague this afternoon to assess the success of cooperation between the three countries during the run-up to their joining NATO six weeks ago. Such meetings have been a regular occurrance since NATO's Madrid summit two years ago. The army chiefs-of-staff of the three countries already met last weekend, when they recommended continued close cooperation between the three defence ministries in coordinating the process of modernising their armed forces and purchasing military equipment.

Minister wants to change people's minds

The Czech interior minister, Vaclav Grulich, has said he will do all he can to persuade people from the South Moravian town of Breclav to abandon their protests against the setting up of a centre for illegal immigrants in the town. The centre would serve as temporary accommodation for illegal immigrants caught at the nearby borders with Slovakia and Austria, but so far over fifteen hundred citizens of the town have signed a petition protesting against it.


And a quick glance at the weather. It's a bright day with a light wind and temperatures between 9 and 13 degrees Celsius, but I'm afraid a trough of low pressure looks set to bring less settled weather with showers by Wednesday.

And that's the end of the news.