News Tuesday, MARCH 21st, 2000

Hello and welcome to Radio Prague. I'm Jana Kotalik. We begin our programme with a brief domestic news bulletin. First, a look at the headlines:

Those were the headlines. Now the news in more detail:

Council of Europe notes persistence racism and intolerance in the Czech Republic

The latest report from the Council of Europe's racism monitoring body has concluded that racism and intolerance persist in the Czech Republic. The report from the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance states, that although the situation has improved since the body's last report in 1997, with the establishment of a special body for Roma minority affairs, and positive steps taken in addressing discrimination in employment and education, severe problems of racism and intolerance persist in the country. The report cites the occurrence of racially-motivated acts of violence in the Czech Republic, mainly but not exclusively directed at the Roma population. And it notes the existence of discrimination against Roma in all spheres of life. The European Commission against racism and intolerance publishes regular reports on all 41 countries of the Strasbourg-based Council of Europe.

New leadership for Czech secret services

Head of the parliamentary committee for the control of the secret services Jan Klas has announced that the leadership of the Czech intelligence is to be taken over directly by the Czech Prime Minister and two of his ministers. This follows last week's dismissal of Minister without portfolio Jaroslav Basta the man in charge of the Czech secret services, and the announcement that his replacement Karel Brezina - to be sworn into cabinet later this week - would not be taking over the responsibility. Prime Minister Milos Zeman will thus head the Czech civil counterintelligence, Foreign Minister Jan Kavan civil intelligence and Defense Minister Vladimir Vetchy will lead military intelligence. In response to fears that he would not have time to devote to the additional post, Prime Minister Zeman told reporters that would be in charge of steering civil counterintelligence, he would not be conducting the daily organisational tasks. The Prime Minister is expected to meet with President Vaclav Havel to discuss the employment of two specialized Czech policing units against organized crime and corruption which have recently come under the scrutiny of the president. Havel has sparked a polemic by saying he wants to see the two police departments investigated by the Czech's own secret services.

Privatisation to add more than previously thought to state coffers

Prime Minister Milos Zeman has announced that privatisation of Czech state enterprises should bring in some 500 billion crowns - or almost 20 billion US dollars - for the Czech government. This figure is more than twice an earlier government estimate, and does not even include privatisation of utilities giant CEZ. The Prime Minister said on Monday that the higher estimate stems mainly from the increased value of state enterprises and only partially from their increased number. Selling off Czech Telecom and Czech wireless telecommunications alone will add 150 billion crowns to state coffers. The Prime Minister said that the government plans to invest the money, notably into infrastructure and housing.

General Wesley Clark visits Czech Republic

NATO's supreme allied commander General Wesley Clark arrives in the Czech Republic on Tuesday for a two-day visit. The American general will meet heads of the Czech armed forces, the prime minister and the lower house speaker. The Czech Minister of Defense Vladimir Vetchy will present Clark with the country's highest cross of merit. This is Clark's first visit to the Czech Republic since the Czechs joined NATO one year ago.

Also to visit the Czech Republic on Wednesday, is the head of the Danish armed forces Christian Hvidt. This historic first visit will allow Prague and Copenhagen to discuss possibilities for military co-operation.

Czech Republic to lift air embargo on Yugoslavia

Czech Foreign Ministry officials have announced that the Czech Republic will likely follow the European Union's recent move and temporarily lift its air embargo on Yugoslavia. The issue is to be taken up by the Czech cabinet on Wednesday. It is expected that direct flights by Czech Airlines between Prague and Belgrade banned by Czech law only this past December will resume shortly. Other Czech sanctions against Yugoslavia - such as the ban on trade in oil and investment are to remain in place. The Yugoslavian national air carrier JAT announced last week that it will resume flights by the end of March.

Czech-German border remains main passageway for illegal migration into Germany

The Czech-German border remains the main passageway for illegal migrants into Germany, according to German Interior Minister Otto Schily. After an examination of border control data for the year 1999, Schily announced on Monday that Czech smugglers were the second major source of illegal migration. Over 12 000 illegal persons were caught at the Czech-German border in 1999 out of a total of some 38 000 migrants trying to enter Germany. The number of illegal migrants from the Czech Republic, however, was down by a third from 1998.

Prague hopes to join EU by 2003, next nine months will be critical

Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan said in Prague on Monday that he was optimistic that the Czech Republic would join the European Union in the first post-communist wave of EU expansion and that the next nine months would be critical for Czech preparedness. The Czech Republic was sharply criticized by the European Union in the Commission's last two annual progress reports for dragging its feet on aligning legislation with EU standards. Recently, Brussels has recognized progress made in accelerating membership preparations. Foreign Minister Kavan said on Monday that he believed all changes in Czech legislation required by the EU would be approved in parliament by this June. The Czech Republic has set 2003 as the target date for membership in the 15-member bloc.

Foreign Minister Kavan steps in to interpret launching of European Union days

The Foreign Minister was speaking in Prague on Monday at the launching of a new campaign called European Union Days. The project - funded by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation - will be held in 11 cities around the country from May to November to promote and explain EU membership. At the press conference to launch European Union days, Jan Kavan surprised the audience by stepping in for a missing interpreter. The Czech Foreign Minister spent years in exile in Great Britain during communist rule in Czechoslovakia.

Church burglar

Police are investigating the recent theft of wooden statues and other religious objects from a church in a West Bohemian town near Plzen. A thief made off with dozens of 17th century statues of angels and bishops valued at over 15 thousand US dollars.


And we end with a quick look at the weather. On Tuesday, we expect partly-cloudy skies in the Czech Republic. Daytime temperatures should remain mild ranging from plus ten to plus fourteen degrees Celsius, falling to a low of -2 overnight.

I'm Jana Kotalik and that's the end of the news.