News Tuesday, AUGUST 18th, 1998

Radio Prague E-news Date: 18.8.1998 Written/read by: David Vaughan

Hello and a warm welcome to the programme. I'm David Vaughan and I'll start with the headlines.

And now the news in more detail.

Confidence Vote

Prime Minister Milos Zeman's Social Democratic government is to face its biggest challenge so far today, as the lower house of parliament begins to debate a vote of confidence in its policy programme. Mr Zeman is virtually guaranteed to win the vote, thanks to a deal reached with the largest opposition party, the Civic Democrats of former Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus. All sixty- three members of parliament for Mr Klaus's party are expected to leave the chamber during the vote, leaving the Social Democrats with a majority of those who remain. The three other opposition parties hold only thirty-nine of the two hundred seats in parliament.

The opposition Christian Democrats of former deputy prime minister Josef Lux have made it clear they have no intention of voting with the government. The party's deputy leader, Vilem Holan, said he considered Mr Zeman's government to be too unstable. He added that the government did have some good policies but condemned its overall policy programme as too general and contradictory. The right of centre Freedom Union has also said it will vote against the government, but the Communist Party has not ruled out voting for the policy programme.

Impact of Russian Crisis

The Czech crown remained stable on Monday despite shockwaves from the crisis of the Russian rouble. Ludek Niedermayer from the Czech National Bank's board of governors said the bank had no plans to intervene as a result of the Russian crisis. He added that it is still very hard to predict the long term impact on the Czech Republic of the rouble's devaluation. He said that the retreat of capital from Russian markets may reinforce the crown, but that we may see precisely the opposite effect, as a result of falling confidence generally in emerging markets. So far the Czech stock exchange has also remained stable.

Czech and Slovak Social Democrats

Prime Minister Milos Zeman has said he wants to rebuild a special relationship with Slovakia. This message was also reinforced by the leader of the Social Democrats' sister party in Slovakia, Jaroslav Volf, after the two party leaders met in Prague yesterday. Mr Volf said that one field of cooperation would be in investigating the tragic car accident six years ago, which led to the death of the then Federal Parliament chairman, and leader of the 1968 Prague Spring, Alexander Dubcek. Mr Zeman recommended the setting up of a special Czech-Slovak Commission to help strengthen ties between the two countries, such as existed in the months following the split of Czechoslovakia in 1993

Havel - Health

Doctors report that President Vaclav Havel's health is continuing to improve, despite lung and heart complications following recent surgery to his digestive tract. They said that Mr Havel will shortly be able to leave intensive care, and is now breathing without assistance. However, he is still being kept in an artificial environment to help his breathing and prevent the risk of infection.

Hospitals not to Close

A number of Czech hospitals threatened with closure have won a temporary reprieve. The health minister, Ivan David, said that he was not yet willing to enforce planned cuts, because he was not convinced that the assessment of the hospitals' viability had been conducted in full accordance with the law. However he said that this did not mean he rejected the assessment outright. Mr David heavily criticised the way his predecessor Zuzana Roithova had run the health ministry, saying that everyone was working at full force, but with little effect.

Church and Politics

The spokesman of the Czech Bishops' Conference, Daniel Herman, has called on Czech politicians to take advantage of a common European Christian identity to help improve relations between the Czech Republic and Germany. He was speaking in the wake of last weekend's meeting between the head of the Czech Catholic Church, Cardinal Vlk, and German Chancellor Kohl in Cologne, when Czech- German relations were one of the main subjects of discussion. He pointed out that Cardinal Vlk and Chancellor Kohl have long enjoyed a close personal friendship.

Czech Troops in Bosnia

A sixty-five strong unit of Czech troops has left for Bosnia to begin the process of relieving the Czech SFOR contingent in the former Yugoslav republic. They are to be joined by further units next week. Prior to the posting the Czech battalion went through a special training programme, and their commander-in-chief said they were well prepared for a wide scope of possible situations.

1968 Anniversary

Almost the entire Czech government attended the opening in Prague on Monday morning of an exhibition to remember the events of August 1968 in Czechoslovakia, when the reforms of the so-called Prague Spring were brought to a violent end by Soviet tanks. Prime Minister Milos Zeman said it was important to remember not just the occupation itself, but also the degree to which many people later collaborated with the subsequent hardline regime.

WW2 Bomb

A twenty-two-year-old man is in hospital in Olomouc with serious injuries after a Second World War grenade he was trying to dismantle at home in his cellar exploded on Sunday evening. Despite his injuries doctors say that he was lucky, because only the detonator went off, otherwise he would have had little chance of surviving. According to police he found the grenade in a local forest.


And a quick look at the weather...

It's another hot day in Prague, with temperatures as high as thirty degrees Celsius, but we can expect showers or thunderstorms to come in towards the evening. And the showery weather is likely to stay with us on Wednesday and Thursday.

And that's the end of the news.