News Tuesday, FEBRUARY 10th, 1998

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Radio Prague E-news Date: 10.2.1998 Written/read by: David Vaughan

Hello and welcome to Radio Prague. I'm David Vaughan. First the headlines.

And now the news in more detail.

Foreign Ministers Meet Albright

The Czech, Polish and Hungarian Foreign Ministers have had talks in Washington with their United States counterpart Madeleine Albright on their preparations for NATO membership. After the meeting the Czech Foreign Minister, Jaroslav Sedivy, said that talks did include the delicate question as to how well the Czech army is prepared for membership. In the past Washington has expressed reservations about the pace of changes to the Czech armed forces. Mr Sedivy added that Mrs Albright again confirmed the United States' preparedness for a military solution to the crisis in Iraq, should diplomacy fail. He offered reserved support for the American stance, although he stressed that the Czech Republic would prefer a diplomatic solution. Along with his Polish and Hungarian colleagues, Mr Sedivy has also been lobbying Senators, to encourage them to vote for US ratification of NATO expansion.

Inflation

Inflation figures have shown that prices rose in January by no less than four percent, the highest monthly increase in the past five years. The acting governor of the Czech National Bank, Jiri Pospisil, said that the bank will have no choice but to intervene, in line with its decision to keep a tight rein on monetary policy. He attributed the increase to the impact of price deregulation and to unexpected rises in food prices. Another member of the bank's board of governors, Ludek Niedermayer, said that the board will have to meet before any decision on interest rates can be taken. At the end of last year the bank set an ambitious goal to push annual inflation down to six percent by the end of 1998.

Row Continues on Czech-German Relations

President Havel has defended the Foreign Minister Jaroslav Sedivy, after serious criticism from the Communists, the Social Democrats and the far-right Republicans over the way he has handled Czech- German relations. The three parties are angry at the inclusion of the controversial Sudeten German leader, Franz Neubauer, in the newly appointed Czech-German Discussion Forum. Mr Sedivy has also been criticised for not showing the list of Czech members of the forum either to the cabinet or the Social Democrats, before travelling to Bonn last week. In defence of Mr Sedivy, President Havel insisted that all the foreign minister's actions strictly followed procedures agreed to as far back as last year.

Party Cooperation Possible

A pre-election pact between two of the Czech Republic's right of centre parties, the Civic Democratic Alliance and the recently formed Freedom Union, looks to be back on course. The Freedom Union's acting leader, Jan Ruml, said that his party would be prepared to cooperate with the Alliance, even if it failed to reveal the name of a hidden party sponsor, who anonymously gave the party money through a fictitious company. Mr Ruml said that he will not demand the donor's name, but does want the Alliance to reveal the name of the party member who agreed to the deal in the first place. One of the names frequently mentioned in the press in connection with the deal is that of former deputy party leader, Vladimir Dlouhy. Opinion polls suggest that the two parties together currently enjoy the support of around sixteen percent of the electorate.

More on Another Party Scandal

And staying with the subject of party finances.... Former Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus's Civic Democratic Party is to face further police investigations in connection with the rumours of financial scandal, which brought down his government at the end of last year. Czech police have confirmed that they are to look into suspicions that the party's former financial manager, Libor Novak, avoided paying tax on party donations that he tried to conceal. However a police spokeswoman said that the investigation does not mean that charges are about to be brought against Mr Novak.

Havel on Government

After visiting a Czech cabinet meeting on Monday, President Havel said he had the impression that Prime Minister Tosovsky's caretaker government is capable of effective action. He said that he left the meeting with the impression that the cabinet worked well together, focusing on concrete issues, without party political tensions getting in the way. He added that he appreciated the cabinet's decision to invite him to attend just when one of the most important items on the government's agenda was being discuss, the question of how it will put its policy programme into practice.

Weather

And I'll end with a quick look at the weather... With warmer brighter weather coming in from the south-west, today's temperatures should reach between 6 and 10 degrees Celsius with plenty of sunshine. And it looks set to remain warm on Wednesday and Thursday, with temperatures remaining as high as ten degrees.

And that's the end of the news.