News Tuesday, FEBRUARY 02th, 1999

Hello and welcome to Radio Prague. I'm Vladimir Tax and here's the news. First the headlines.

These are the main points and now the news in more detail.

Govt. approves military laws, discusses church property

At its session on Monday, the Czech government approved several laws concerning defence and the military which the Czech Republic must adopt because of joining NATO.

The cabinet also accepted a study prepared by the Charles University on Roman-Catholic church property claims. The study maintains that the Catholic church has no ownership rights to most of the property it has used in the past two centuries so there is no point in restitutions.

Havel's public appearance

President Vaclav Havel has called a press conference this afternoon on the occassion of the first anniversary of his re- election. Havel announced that he would take a position on both domestic and international political affairs. The president made a similar public appearance a year ago, shortly after his re- election. Back then, he said he wanted to be more involved in local politics, to be less visible but have a stronger voice. Vaclav Havel was elected president in January last year for the second, and final five-year term.

New Czech mission to EU partly opened

The Czech Republic's mission to the EU in Brussels has been opened with four Czech diplomats on board. They will soon be joined by dozens of other diplomats whose task will be to negotiate the Czech Republic's admission to the EU, and attend to membership issues after joining the Union. The Czech Republic purchased a building in Brussels and Belgian and Czech companies are to provide projects for its reconstruction by the end of February. The new premises are to be ready by September and will provide working place for up to 60 Czech diplomats.

Rapid reaction forces ready to join NATO - Sedivy

The Czech Army units which are going to become a part of NATO's rapid reaction forces are prepared for the task, Czech Army Chief- of-Staff Jiri Sedivy told reporters. He said that the chemical unit in Liberec, North Bohemia, was the best prepared unit and that technical problems are being solved at some air bases. The Czech Republic will be represented in NATO structures by about a 100 people, with 40 of them being trained in Brussels at the moment.

Czech Republic to help earthquake victims in Colombia

The Czech Republic will provide a 25,000-USD aid to the earthquake victims in Colombia. Foreign Ministry spokesman Ales Pospisil said that the cheque would be handed over by the Czech embassy in Bogota. A wave of earthquakes in Colombia last week left 925 people dead, more than 4,000 injured and 400,000 homeless.

Communist MPs might join SocDem - Skromach

Deputy chairman of the ruling Social Democratic Party, Zdenek Skromach, has hinted that some Communist MPs will join the Social Democrats in the parliament. He told CTK news agency that some Communist deputies may arrive at the conclusion that they could have a better position in another party. But he added that if something like this was to happen, it would be a matter of several months.

Industrial sales down by 8.2% in December

Real industrial sales dropped by 8.2 percent year-to-year in December 1998, the Czech Statistical Office announced on Monday. This is the steepest decline since 1993. Analysts are surprised by the figures as they had expected a milder decrease and they predict that it is likely that the GDP will show a deep decline in the last quarter of 1998.

Crown breaks magic barrier of 19 CZK/DEM

The Czech crown has fallen below the magic barrier of 19 crowns per deutschmark, which is about 37 crowns per euro. The crown has been weakening for the past few days due to foreign investors vacating their long-term positions in order to prevent further losses. Dealers expect the downward trend to continue as a reaction to the latest interest rate cuts by the Czech National Bank.

According to Czech National Economy Institute director and head of the Davidson Institute at Michigan University, Jan Svejnar, further decreases of the Czech crown's exchange rate could help renew economic growth. Svejnar told Reuters that a drop of five to ten percent would function as a powerful stimulus for economic growth while inflationary pressures could be avoided by customers' orientation to local products.

Flu epidemic continues

The flu epidemic in the Czech Republic is spreading further. All districts have reported an increase in the number of cases, the overall week-to-week rise was 44 percent. The epidemic hits all age groups alike, and many schools all over the country have had to be closed.

Defence ministry rejects fraud charges

The Czech defence ministry has rejected allegations of an embezzlement of a large sum of money from the funds paid by Saudi Arabia to the former Czechoslovakia for its role in the Gulf War eight years ago. Czech private TV PRIMA reported on Sunday that about 1.5 million USD was probably stolen. The defence ministry confirmed that it received nearly 8 million USD from Saudi Arabia back in 1991. Ministry spokesman Milan Repka said that most of the money went towards soldiers salaries and military material used in the war. The rest was used to finance the Czech contingent in the UNPROFOR peace-keeping forces in former Yugoslavia.

Security expert worried by information leaks

Chairman of the parliamentary supervisory commission for the BIS intelligence service, Jan Klas is worried by the latest leakage of information from the commission's session. He said some commission members were providing information to the media beyond their authority about the reasons which led to the removal of BIS chief Karel Vulterin last week. In Klas's opinion, such disloyalty can endanger the functioning of the intelligence service and the life of some of its members. He said it was striking that something like that can happen so shortly before the Czech Republic's accession to NATO.

Ruml: affair dangerous to country's security

According to former interior minister Jan Ruml, the affair surrounding the removal of the head of the intelligence service Karel Vulterin endangers the Czech republic's security as well as its international reputation. In his opinion, deputy premier Jaroslav Basta is responsible for the leakage of sensitive information and should take full responsibility for it. The government removed Vulterin from office last Wednesday, citing some of his mistakes, but the real causes remain in the sphere of speculation.

Czech weather report

And finally, a brief look at the weather. A warm front has been moving across central Europe, bringing cloudy and wet weather. We are expecting a mostly cloudy day with scattered snow showers with afternoon highs ranging from 2 degrees Celsius below zero to 2 above. Wednesday and Thursday should be much the same, cloudy with snow and later rain showers, with temperatures up to 5 degrees Celsius.

And that's the end of the news.