News Tuesday, DECEMBER 22nd, 1998

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Welcome to Radio Prague. Those were the headlines and now the news in more detail, read by Libor Kubik.

HAVEL-POLL

Czech President Vaclav Havel said on Monday that he was not going to stay in office against the will of his nation.

He was reacting to the outcomes of a recent survey in which half of those polled said Havel should consider stepping down, mainly for health reasons.

The president, enthralled in a bitter dispute and mutual recriminations with his former fellow dissident Vaclav Benda over a recent scandal in which Vienna's former Mayor Helmut Zilk was apparently falsely accused of collaboration with Communist Czechoslovakia's secret police in the sixties, was back to work on Monday after a bout of influenza, recording his New Year's message to the nation and meeting Social Democrat Prime Minister Milos Zeman.

Zeman said Czech opinion polls in general were not entirely representative of the actual views of the respondents.

Apart from health reasons, those polled by the IVVM agency also said that Havel had lost much of his prestige, partly because of his controversial second wife, a former actress.

The Havels, who traded their Christmas presents on Sunday, are leaving for a three-week Christmas holiday today.

CZECH-GOVT-STATE OF THE REPUBLIC

Prime Minister Milos Zeman said on Monday that his government had finished work on a report on the state of the Czech Republic.

He said after a meeting with President Havel that the report was very critical. But he said it was not meant to stir emotions and cause public trouble. Rather, its aim was to tell the nation exactly in what situation their country has found itself.

Our correspondent says the report will be published early next month.

CZECH-INTERIOR-DISPUTE

Czech Interior Minister Vaclav Grulich said on Monday he will not resign although pressed to do so by his right-wing predecessor, Jan Ruml.

Ruml had earlier accused Minister Grulich, a Social Democrat, of wreaking havoc in his office by suspending trustworthy aides and replacing them with people who have discredited themselves as communist collaborators in the past.

He said the Freedom Union party, of which he is the leader, will instruct its deputies to put specific questions to Grulich in order to ascertain the truth.

Mr Grulich declared that he will not bow to pressure.

CZECH-POLITICS

Meanwhile, the Freedom Union's Michal Lobkowitz alleged on Monday that the two biggest parties -- the ODS of ex-premier Vaclav Klaus and the Social Democrats -- were on their way to forming a grand coalition.

Lobkowitz, a senior MP for the centre-right Freedom Union, said in Brno that officials from both parties were busy holding one-on-one meetings with the aim of reshuffling the government and striking a cooperation pact aimed against the smaller parties.

CZECH-IRAQ-DIPLOMATS-CHRISTMAS

Families of Czech diplomats in Iraq, temporarily evacuated from Baghdad at the start of Operation Desert Fox last week, will be reunited to spend Christmas together at the Czech diplomatic post.

Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ales Pospisil said on Monday that the evacuees could be back in Baghdad within 48 hours after obtaining clearance.

The ministry says in has no information about any expressions of hostile feelings towards Czechs in any Arab or Muslim country.

Operation Desert Fox ended on Saturday.

CZECH-GREENPEACE-TOYS

The Czech branch of Greenpeace has warned the public not to buy toys made of softened polyvinylchloride, which it says causes cancer. The movement appealed to the authorities to ban the sale of such toys to children under three years of age -- a regulation which has long been in force in Germany.

Our correspondent says softened-vinyl toys are also banned in Austria, Denmark and Sweden.

CZECH-SKIING-CONDITIONS

The skiing conditions in the Czech mountains, which have been pretty good lately, are expected to deteriorate steadily at the start of Christmas, due to a let-up.

Jiri Englicky of the Meteogres Service said on Monday that the weather will be rather mixed, cloudy and with scattered showers, and temperatures around freezing point only at higher elevations.

CZECH-WINTER

Astronomical winter on the territory of the Czech Republic began early this morning, two hours and 56 minutes after midnight. The sun has entered the Sign of Capricorn so we now are a little over three hours past the point called the winter solstice.

And we have also endured the longest night of the year, which lasted almost 16 hours. From now on, things will start getting better, I believe.

I am Libor Kubik and that's the end of the news.