News Tuesday, JANUARY 26th, 1999

Kavan dismisses criticism of official stance on racism

Czech foreign minister Jan Kavan has dismissed criticism of Czech official stance on racism voiced by some US congressmen. Kavan rejected that leading Czech officials have failed to sufficiently denounce xenophobia and signs of racial discrimination in Czech society, an opinion expressed by Christopher Smith and Steny Hoyer, members of the U.S. Congress Helsinki Committee. Kavan suggested that they were poorly informed, because Czech officials have spoken out against racism many times. Kavan stressed however, that the struggle against prejudice and xenophobia should not be limited to statements but that it was important to adopt concrete measures and legislation. He added that the cabinet wanted to combine this with a number of measures designed to raise the education level of Romany children and the representation of Romanies in self-governing bodies. The criticism by the Congress committee was based on rather outdated information, Kavan said, adding that if its members studied the measures taken by the Czech cabinet recently, they would certainly withdraw their criticism.

Czech Republic hit by flu epidemic

The Czech Republic has been hit by a flu epidemic. The worst situation is in Prague where doctors confirmed the occurrence of seven variants of the influenza virus. Doctors reported a 25-percent increase in the number of cases since last week, with proliferation exceeding two percent.

Shattuck: Czech Rep. may play key role

As an early NATO member, the Czech Republic may play a key regional role, this according to United States ambassador to Prague, John Shattuck. He said at a seminar at the Czech foreign ministry that membership in the alliance should stimulate the Czech Republic to solve all its political and economic problems. The US ambassador said the Czech government was on the right track in fulfilling the military requirements but he urged for speeding up the adoption of military legislation and for better campaigning for NATO membership among Czech citizens.

Klaus not against Zeman's idea of extending opposition pact

Main opposition Civic Democrat leader Vaclav Klaus does not reject the idea of extending the so called opposition agreement between his party and the ruling Social Democrats. The proposal has been made by premier and Social Democrat leader Milos Zeman. Klaus said that if Zeman had any concrete suggestions, he should initiate talks. But should it mean support for government policy and socialist proposals in Parliament, Klaus added, this is out of the question. Speaking on TV Nova on Sunday, Zeman said he was in favour of extending the opposition agreement. He said that he envisaged a new agreement whereby the Civic Democrats would automatically allow key legislation proposed by the cabinet to be passed. The deal, signed last summer following inconclusive general election results, enabled the existence of the minority Social Democrat cabinet and granted Civic Democrat representatives top parliamentary positions.

Opposition agreement cannot function in Czech politics - Ruml

Freedom Union chairman Jan Ruml believes that the opposition agreement concluded between the Social Democrats and the Civic Democrats cannot function on the current Czech political scene. Ruml is convinced that either an actual coalition of the two parties will be formed in the future, something about which Premier Zeman has talked recently, or the agreement will be cancelled. Ruml said that both variants were acceptable to the Freedom Union as they represented a better solution than the present situation. A grand coalition between the two strongest parties would lead to the creation of a standard political model with a ruling coalition and an opposition. On the other hand, if the agreement was terminated, Jan Ruml thinks, space would be created for talks on a possible wider majority coalition.

Havel meets with Kuzvart

President Havel is to meet with environment minister Milos Kuzvart today to discuss the main principles of the Czech government's environmental policy as well as long-term trends in environmental protection. They are also expected to debate on the current environmental situation in the Czech Republic with regard to its accession to the European Union.

Students march to honour Palach

It was 30 years this Monday since Czech national hero Jan Palach's funeral. Jan Palach immolated himself in protest against the 1968 Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia and the consequent developments. To mark the anniversary, today's students of the Philosophical Faculty gathered on what is now called Jan Palach square and marched to the Wenceslas square, the site of Palach's heroic act.

Basta confirms confidential list authenticity

Head of the governmental anti-corruption team, minister Jaroslav Basta has confirmed the authenticity of the list of members of the team published by the LIDOVE NOVINY newspaper and the weekly REFLEX on Monday. Basta insisted that the composition of his commission is confidential. Nevertheless, he is not going to sue the publications for making it public. The newspapers claimed that according to the law on confidential information, the government has no right to make such a commission secret.

Mertlik: it's the government's move

Deputy premier for economic policy, Pavel Mertlik is convinced that it is now up to the government to liven up economic growth. Mertlik has admitted that the easing of the tight monetary policy by the Czech National Bank can help accelerate the economic growth but thinks that the decisive move - a fundamental system reform - is now up to the government. As he told CTK news agency, he sees the only solution in fiscal and monetary expansion and that is the main reason for the deficit budget for this year. Mertlik also stressed the need to finish the privatisation process and admitted that bankruptcies of many ineffective companies were inevitable.

Tripartite agrees on employee protection

The government, employers and the trade unions have agreed that it is necessary to protect company employees in cases of insolvency. At their Monday meeting, they agreed that it is vital to adopt new legislation which would ease the situation for workers when their company goes bankrupt.

Sobotka sees David as the worst minister since 1989

Deputy chairman of the Senate Premysl Sobotka considers Ivan David as the worst health minister since 1989. Sobotka admitted that the health sector has lacked a good minister since 1990, but stressed that he saw the current one as the worst. He cited David's mistakes such as his personnel policy and the affairs surrounding the closures of hospitals. In Sobotka's opinion, David, as a former shadow health minister, had enough time to prepare himself for the position but failed to do so.

More Czechs negative on "opposition agreement"

According to a recent opinion poll, the popularity of the agreement between the two strongest political parties, the Social Democrats and the Civic Democrats is decreasing. The survey conducted in January, by the Institute for Public Opinion Research, showed that 41 percent of Czechs view the deal as a negative phenomenon, which is 13 percent more than last September. Most of those who criticized the so-called opposition agreement said it was a betrayal of the voters. The deal enabled the existence of the minority Social Democrat cabinet and granted Civic Democrat representatives top parliamentary positions.

Inflation satisfactory

According to another recent opinion poll, a third of Czech citizens consider inflationary developments last year as favourable. 46 percent of those asked considered it unacceptable. The views on inflation vary with political affiliation and social position. Supporters of right-wing parties, business people and those with a higher living- standard are optimistic, while manual workers, pensioners, and Social Democrat and Communists voters are dissatisfied.

Czech weather report

And finally, the weather forecast. We are expecting a mostly cloudy day with scattered showers, afternoon highs should range from 3 to 7 degrees Celsius. Wednesday and Thursday should be also cloudy with occasional showers but rather colder with highest daytime temperatures hovering around zero.

And that's the end of the news.