News Tuesday, FEBRUARY 03th, 1998

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Radio Prague E-news Date: 3.2.1998 Written/read by: David Vaughan

Hello and a warm welcome to Radio Prague. I'm David Vaughan, and I'll start with a bulletin of Czech news. First the headlines.

Now the news in more detail:

Havel Sworn In

In the historic Vladislav Hall of Prague Castle, Vaclav Havel has once again been sworn in as Czech President, at a ceremony attended by members of both houses of the Czech Parliament. Surprisingly only around half the MPs from the lower house were present, and they were joined by foreign ambassadors, and representatives from Czech public life. Afterwards the President followed tradition by delivering a public address from the balcony of the Castle's Third Courtyard. Around two hundred people braved sub-zero temperatures, as the President promised that during his final term of office he would try to act according to his conscience and would do all he could to encourage constructive political debate. In his speech he also called for Czech legislature to be reinforced, to create a state built on the word of the law, and he promised to battle against the mood of pessimism currently prevailing in the country. After a brief military review, Mr Havel then paid homage to the remains of the Patron Saint of Bohemia, Saint Wenceslas, in Saint Vitus Cathedral.

Amnesty

President Havel has followed a further tradition to mark his inauguration by granting an amnesty to some prisoners in Czech gaols. The President's spokesman, Ladislav Spacek, said the amnesty will effect only first-time offenders, and will exclude any more serious crimes. The amnesty will also apply to former Czechoslovak citizens who face being sent back to Slovakia for minor crimes. Mr Spacek pointed out that many Slovaks have relatives in the Czech Republic, making expulsion particularly painful. In total around two hundred people are expected to be released from prison, and six hundred will no longer face expulsion.

Parliament to Sit

The February session of the lower house of the Czech Parliament begins on Tuesday afternoon. The session will be followed closely, because deputies are to discuss an important bill approving the Czech Republic's admission to NATO. It is still not clear whether the Czech Republic will complete the process of ratifying NATO admission before early elections in the summer. Among other items on the agenda are an amendment to limit the immunity from prosecution enjoyed by deputies and senators, and an amendment that will make it illegal to possess drugs for personal consumption.

Klaus Manager Resigns

Within days of being appointed the new manager of former Prime Minister Klaus's Civic Democratic Party, Ludek Nezmar, has resigned. Since his appointment, Mr Nezmar had been dogged by claims that he had mismanaged his finances and had numerous unpaid debts. He told a press conference that he was resigning as a result of systematic press campaign being led against both himself and his party.

Another Party Scandal

The row is deepening over an alleged party scandal involving the Civic Democratic Alliance, one of the parties represented in the government. After a businessman, Kamil Kolek, claimed that he was bribed into sponsoring the party, Alliance leaders have now struck back, saying that Mr Kolek himself sent threatening letters to the former and current leaders of the party, Michael Zantovsky and Jiri Skalicky. The party has said that it will publish the letters.

Cost of Flood Repairs

The Environment Minister, Jiri Skalicky, has said that between two and three billion Czech crowns - nearly a hundred million US dollars - are to be invested this year from state coffers to putting right last year's flood damage. He added that two billion crowns have already been invested. Mr Skalicky said that the greatest devastation was caused in areas upstream, where rivers flow through forested areas. He stressed that studies are underway to try and prevent a repeat of last year's catastrophe, but he described suggestions made by the Agriculture Minister Josef Lux, that a series of new dams be built, as extravagant.

Gamekeepers to Prison

A court in the south Czech town of Ceske Budejovice has sentenced a gamekeeper to ten years in prison, for the fatal shooting of a poacher in September 1996. Two others have been given conditional sentences. The three men shot at the poacher's car with hunting rifles, as he was trying to drive away, and the thirty-one year old man was shot through the head.

Was Attack Racist?

The police chief in the Czech Republic's second city Brno has said that Sunday's attack on a twenty-two-year-old Libyan student, Ali Ngar Mahmat, was not racially motivated. He said that the student became involved in a fight at a discotheque, after another man accused him of taking too close an interest in his girlfriend. The student, whose father is a Libyan diplomat in the Czech Republic, was taken to hospital with concussion, cuts and bruises.

Cold

The weekend saw the coldest temperatures in the Czech Republic so far this winter, with temperatures in the Sumava mountains sinking as low as minus 35 degrees Celsius. Organisations running hostels for the homeless in Prague said on Monday that they were filled to capacity, despite making extra beds available. The Salvation Army said they was already running out of blankets at one of their hostels, but they stressed that no-one will be turned away. They are currently providing shelter to around two hundred homeless people.

And the weather is expected to remain cold over the coming days, with snow showers and nighttime temperatures as low as minus 15 degrees Celsius.

And that's the end of the news.