News Tuesday, MARCH 23rd, 1999

Hello and welcome to Radio Prague. I'm Vladimir Tax and here's the news. First the headlines.

These are the main points and now the news in more detail.

European Greens call on Czech government to stop Temelin

The European Federation of Green Parties sent a letter to the Czech government in support of the demand of the Czech Greens to stop the construction of Temelin immediately. The Greens, who are associated in the European federation, refer to an assessment by an international expert commission which says that Temelin will not be profitable and that the Czech Republic will not need the electricity produced by this nuclear power plant until at least the year 2010.

The Czech government has discussed the assessment on Monday and postponed a decision on the future of Temelin until May. The cabinet asked the ministers of industry and trade and the environment to draft proposals for the solution of the situation. The Minister of Industry and Trade, Miroslav Gregr should focus on completing the construction while Environment Minister Milos Kuzvart is expected to present arguments for halting the project.

Kavan not surprised at Solana cancellation of Prague visit

Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan is not surprised by the cancellation of NATO Secretary General Javier Solana's visit to the Czech Republic. Kavan told reporters that he had expected Solana to postpone the visit planned for Wednesday in the light of the escalating crisis in Kosovo. Kavan added that CIA Director George Tenet was also likely to postpone his visit, which was due to begin today. Solana planned to visit the three new NATO members - the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland - before NATO's Washington summit which begins in late April.

Lower house session begins

The lower house of the Czech parliament, the Chamber of Deputies, begins a new session later today. The main points on its agenda include a government report on the state of the Czech society, the country's defence strategy and deployment of a military field hospital in Kosovo in support of a possible NATO operation in this Yugoslav enclave. The MPs will also discuss a bill on same-sex registered partnership and a law on referendum.

EBRD to invest more in CR

The European Bank for Reconstruction Development will invest more in the Czech Republic. EBRD vice-president Charles Frank told Czech public TV that the bank can fill the positions vacated by private capital, and thus acquire new investment opportunities in the Czech Republic. The EBRD holds a large stake in one of the biggest Czech banks, Ceska Sporitelna, and is considering participation in a capital increase of this bank.

Prague hosts an international banking forum

The Prague Ambassador Hotel hosts the 7th European Banking and Financial Forum. Among the participants are OECD deputy secretary general Joanna Shelton, first vice-president of the EBRD Charles Frank and European Investment Bank vice-president Wolfgang Roth. Czech lower house speaker and former premier Vaclav Klaus is to deliver one of the keynote speeches on the future economic development of the European Union.

Govt - opinion poll

Some government ministers are becoming less popular. According to the latest opinion poll conducted by the Institute for Public Opinion Research, deputy premier Pavel Rychetsky's popularity dropped 11 percent over the last three months. The ministers of finance and culture, Ivo Svoboda and Pavel Dostal lost 7 percent.

The poll also revealed that half of Czechs do not consider their government as stable and 60 percent of them call for changes in some ministerial posts. If a new coalition government was to be formed, 42 percent of those asked would favour a broad coalition comprising both right- and left-wing parties.

GDP sinks ...

Czech Gross Domestic Product in 1998 dropped 2.7 percent in real terms. In the fourth quarter alone, the decrease was 4.1 percent. These are the latest data provided by the Czech Statistical Office. Experts are surprised by the structure of the GDP decline, with a decrease in household demand stemmed but there being a greater dip in investment.

... but there is hope for improvement

According to Miroslav Nosal, an analyst from US investment Bank Merill Lynch, the overall situation of the Czech economy could improve in the second half of this year as a result the renewed growth in domestic demand and an increase in exports due to the devaluation of the Czech currency.

Reform trap Hungarian-style

The Czech Republic finds itself in the same reform trap as Hungary five years ago. According to former industry and trade minister Karel Kuehnl, with a four or five year-delay, the Czech Republic is experiencing the same stage of economic decline. In his opinion, it is necessary that the Czech government reacts in the same way as the Hungarian cabinet did, that is to reduce the state budget deficit, fully liberalize prices and complete institutional reforms.

Karmov sentenced to 9 years in prison

High court in Prague has sentenced Russian financier Alim Karmov to nine years in prison for fraud. The court also banned him from establishing his own business or holding a high position in a company for ten years. Karmov collected money from Czech citizens, promising them high yields. After some time he publicly confessed that he had deceived them and embezzled the money. It has been revealed that Karmov used the money - about 700 million Czech crowns - to purchase a company in Kazakhstan, for trading in copper, and other dubious business activities in the former Soviet Union countries. Karmov also deceived the depositors of his investment fund in Russia.

Czech weather report

And now, let's take a quick look at the weather. We are expecting a cloudy day with scattered showers, especially in western parts of the country. Afternoon highs should range from 3 to 7 degrees Celsius. Over the next two days, we are expecting a warm front from the West to influence weather in the Czech Republic. It should be cloudy with occasional showers on Wednesday and partially cloudy on Thursday, with highest daytime temperatures around 10 degrees Celsius.

And that's the end of the news.