News Tuesday, MAY 19th, 1998

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Radio Prague e-news: May 19, 1998 Written/read by: Ray Furlong

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

Now the news in more detail.

Tosovsky

The Prime Minister, Josef Tosovsky, has received the leaders of ten public sector workers' unions for talks on wage demands. The leader of the Trade Union Congress, Richard Falbr, also arrived to take part in the meeting. Earlier this year Tosovsky was widely criticised by unions for refusing talks with them, after public sector employees held a demonstration outside the finance ministry building calling for more money. Tosovsky said at the time he would not negotiate under pressure. Falbr, who was re-elected head of the Trade Union Congress last weeked, has called for the government to be more open to dialogue with unions. The public sector unions represent around 800,000 people - including teachers, health workers, firemen and others.

Romany/skinheads

On Monday, police investigating the killing of a 40-year-old Romany man charged four youths with causing him grevious bodily harm, with a racial subtext. They have also applied to have the four, who are aged between 17 and 20, remanded into custody. The group allegedly attacked the man at the weekend, leaving him lying unconscious in the road. He was subsequently killed when a lorry ran him over. Meanwhile, the deputy chairwoman of the government's council for ethnic minorities met with outraged local Romanies. Monika Horakova said after her talks that she had pursuaded them to abandon plans for the establishment of armed Romany self-defence patrols. Horakova also said she would press for the police to set up a special anti-skinhead unit.

Prague demo/reactions

The Environment Minister, Martin Bursik, invited ecological groups to today's cabinet meeting after the weekend's violence in central Prague. Bursik said he wanted the groups, such as Greenpeace, to explain that they were not responsible for the rioting. He added that he had no reason to doubt them. But the former prime minister, Vaclav Klaus, told journalists that the majority of environmental organisations had completely different agendas to those they proclaimed. After Saturday's violence, this would be clearer to even more people, he added. The Interior Minister, Cyril Svoboda, is beginning work on a full report covering the violence which hit the streets of Prague on Saturday. Svoboda told a cabinet meeting on Monday he would submit a detailed report by next week - although he repeated earlier comments of support for the police action. Minister without Portfolio Vladimir Mlynar also backed the police, although he said they could have been more professional in their approach.) Meanwhile, the police say they are investigating complaints about brutality. Radislav Charvat from Prague police said innocent people may have been hit by police truncheons, and said if anything were proved they would receive an apology. The police have also admitted that they were completely unprepared for the scale of Saturday's demonstration.

Havel/health

President Havel's team of doctors are to make a statement to the media this afternoon, at which they are expected to announce the date when he will go back into hospital ahead of another operation. Havel is currently convalescing at his country residence after surgery on a burst intestine in Innsbruck. But he must go back into hospital to have a colostomy closed up. This surgery will be performed by Ernst Bodner, the Austrian doctor who also operated on Havel in Innsbruck. Yesterday Havel had stitches removed from his neck, which remained after a tracheotomy also carried out in Innsbruck.

Pilip/debt

The Czech Republic's national debt could actually be almost twice as high as officially stated. The Finance Minister, Ivan Pilip, said that hidden debt held by special banks set up by the state to deal with the period of economic transformation amounts to 140 billion crowns - making the total debt 310 billion, or almost ten billion US dollars. Most of the debt comes from bad debts which the state took off banks and enterprises during the early years of economic reform, Pilip said. He added that he wanted to make the situation surrounding the debt clearer by putting it all under one institution, and to cover it with a mixture of bond issues and borrowing.

EU/economy

The European Commission has given an upbeat assesment of the state of the Czech economy. In a regular report, the Commission says that after the "hard year" of 1997 the Czech economy is starting to show the first signs of renewal. It points particularly to rising exports, industrial output, and growth. The Commission points a warning finger at the increase in inflation, but is less worried about growing unemployment. According to the Commission, higher jobless figures are a result of the necessary restructuring of Czech companies.

Housing

Post-communist countries grappling with housing problems can expect no help from the European Union - according to Nic Nilsson, the head of the International Tenants' Association. Nilsson made the remarks after meeting with Czech lawmakers in Prague. He said Western European governments were themselves doing very little to deal with housing shortages, and pointed to the large numbers of homeless inside the EU. The Czech Republic suffers from a stagnant housing market, with black market prices far exceeding those for flats with regulated rents. Nevertheless, Nilsson warned against efforts led by the Czech right to push through painful rent deregulation, arguing the experience of the United States showed that the market could not resolve the housing question.

Museum

Employees at the National Museum in Prague marked International Museum Day with a protest about low wages. Visitors to the Prague Museum were handed leaflets pointing to the low salaries of staff and to cuts in the National's budget. Employees say top experts are leaving their jobs for better money in the private sector, and that young blood is being driven away by the poor wages. This, the museum protestors said, could also endanger valuable exhibits which need expert care and attention. The head of the National Museum has also pointed to the lack of funds for wages, and said other cuts had caused it to reduce the amount of exhibitions held.