News Tuesday, MAY 12th, 1998

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Radio Prague E-news Date: May 12, 1998 Written/read by: Ray Furlong

Hello and welcome to Radio Prague. I'm Ray Furlong, and we start with the news headlines.

And now the news in more detail.

Havel/pardon

President Vaclav Havel yesterday pardoned two Romanies charged with physically assaulting the far-right Republican leader, Miroslav Sladek, at an election rally on Saturday. The presidential spokesman told journalists that although Havel did not approve of violence, he praised the Romanies for taking a stand against vulgar comments made by Sladek and addressed at Havel and his wife. In an interview with Czech Radio, Havel's wife Dagmar said that the form of the Romanies' protest was not the most fortunate - but she thanked them for defending the honour of the country's top representative. Meanwhile, a local Romany association has appealed for Sladek to be stripped of his parliamentary immunity and charged with inciting racial hatred. The Republican party described Havel's decision as a "mockery of democracy" and said it amounted to a green light for gypsies to attack Sladek again.

Havel/operation

President Vaclav Havel's team of doctors meets later today to consider when he can be released from hospital. The meeting comes after yesterday's minor operation to close up a slit in his throat made recently during a tracheotomy in Austria. // Havel's chief doctor said the operation had taken 45 minutes and had been without problems. He added that he was confident Havel would be able to leave hospital on Thursday. Havel fell ill with peritonitis while on holiday in Austria three weeks ago, and underwent emergency surgery. He's expected to have another major operation, to close up a calostomy. But it's hoped he will be fit and back at work before June's parliamentary elections.

Geremek

The Polish Foreign Minister, Broniswal Geremek, has arrived on a two-day visit to the Czech Republic. Geremek's visit is focusing on the two countries' future membership of NATO and the European Union, as well as bilateral relations. In an interview with the CTK news agency on the eve of his visit, Geremek praised the cooperation between Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary in the run-up to joining NATO. Geremek also underlined the role played by Vaclav Havel, and stressed that as head of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe he also considered morality to be an essential part of politics. In connection with this, he had harsh words for Belarus and Slovakia - stating that in these countries the process of moving from totalitarian to pluralistic society had faltered at the very beginning and that the civilised values of Europe were being "raped."

Parliament

The lower house of the Czech Parliament sits later today for the last time before elections in mid-June. Among the most controversial items on the agenda is to be a bill tightening up the law on drugs, which makes possession of what is described as a "quantity larger than small" a criminal offence. The law was earlier vetoed by President Havel. // But the session looks set to be overshadowed by debate of Saturday's attack on Republican leader Miroslav Sladek. The Interior Minister has already agreed to Republican demands to include the matter in a debate on his report on racism in the Czech Republic.

Apples

The European Union will be providing further financial aid to Czech fruit producers after the Czech government's decision to scrap quotas on imports of apples from the Union. The quotas were imposed in January, and provoked strong retaliation from the EU - which slapped large tariffs on some Czech meat and fruit products. These sanctions are now also to be repealed. Agriculture Minister Josef Lux praised what he called a "compromise solution," and Czech fruit producers also said they were happy that the quotas had temporarily helped them sell more apples.

Pilip/economy

The Finance Minister, Ivan Pilip, has said that the current strength of the Czech crown reflects the strength of the economy. Speaking at a meeting of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in Kiev, Pilip said money markets were reacting to positive economic indicators - such as improvements in balance of trade figures and increased exports. He also said that June's elections would not present a danger provided the course of economic reform continued.)

Managers

A survey of 200 top managers in the Czech Republic has found a mixed outlook on the future of the economy. Thirty-one percent felt the economic situation would improve after the elections, but almost the same number thought it would get worse. Managers said the next government should concentrate on completing privatisation and helping exporters. They said the biggest problems would be increasing unemployment and, with it, a bigger bill for social welfare payments. Around a third of top managers were worried about the prospect of an unstable government and of a slide towards left- wing policies.

Prague Spring

The 53rd annual Prague Spring festival of classical music kicks off later today. Before the music starts, a memorial ceremony was held at the graves of two of the greatest Czech composers - Bedrich Smetana and Antonin Dvorak. Later, the festival gets going in traditional style with a rendition of Smetana's Ma Vlast - My Homeland.

Weather

And to round off with the weather, Tuesday could be even hotter than Monday - with maximum temperatures tipped at between 25 and 29 degrees - although there is a chance of thunderstorms. And the meteorological office also predicts a pleasant easterly breeze. And that's the news.