News Tuesday, JANUARY 30th, 2001

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By Vladimir Tax

Chairman of Czech Senate leaves for Cuba

The Chairman of the Czech Senate, Petr Pithart, is visiting Havana on the invitation of Cuban leader Fidel Castro. The aim of his mission is to negotiate the release of two Czech citizens, arrested in Cuba more than two weeks ago on charges of subversion. Ivan Pilip and Jan Bubenik were detained on January 12 after meeting with local dissidents. The international community has been exerting pressure on Havana to release the two men, one of whom is a parliamentary deputy and former Czech finance minister. Upon his arrival late on Monday, Petr Pithart told Cuban journalists that Mr. Pilip and Mr. Bubenik travelled to Cuba on their own and did not represent the Czech nation or country and therefore the Czech Republic cannot be held responsible for their activities.

Earlier, the Czech government has also distanced itself from Mr. Pilip's and Mr. Bubenik's journey to Cuba, saying it was a private venture. However, Prime Minister Milos Zeman stressed that the government will do its best to get the two men back to the Czech Republic, and to renew normal political and economic dialogue between the two countries.

The Deputy chairman of the Czech Communist Party, Miroslav Ransdorf, who held talks with the Cuban charge d'affaires in Prague last week, suggested that the whole case might be over within a month.

Czechs help earthquake victims in India

The Czech Foreign Ministry is to provide humanitarian aid to earthquake-hit India worth 1.5 million CZK or nearly 50,000 USD from its budget. The ministry said it would consult India first about what form of help would be most efficient. The Czech Catholic Charity has already sent more than 5 thousand USD worth of humanitarian aid to India, where an earthquake on Friday claimed around 20,000 lives.

Statistical Office brings inflation calculation in line with Eurostat

The Czech Statistical Office has changed its method for calculating inflation to bring it in line with the methods used by the European statistical office, Eurostat. The revised consumer basket will reflect recent changes in the structure of consumption in the Czech Republic. The new basket will accentuate, for example, housing costs, and on the other hand, the weight of foodstuffs will be reduced. New commodities will be included, such as mobile phones and second-hand cars.

The Czech National Bank said it has not yet taken the new methodology into consideration when making its predictions. It expects the Consumer Price Index to stand at around 4 percent and net inflation at 2.5 percent at the end of this year.

British-French consortium acquires majority in Prague water company

A consortium of British Anglian Water and French Vivendi have acquired a majority stake in the Prague Water and Sewage Company. The Czech government sold its 66-percent stake in the strategic company for almost 170 million USD, nearly three times more than the sum offered by the second best applicant.

Weather forecast

And finally, the weather forecast. We are expecting a cloudy day with snow showers, the highest daytime temperatures should not exceed freezing point. Wednesday and Thursday should be much the same, cloudy with snow showers, with afternoon highs up to 1 degree Celsius.