News Tuesday, NOVEMBER 21st, 2000

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By Libor Kubik

Czechs ban French, Portugal beef import

The Czech Republic has banned beef imports from France and Portugal, citing precautions against the spread of BSE or mad cow disease.

The State Veterinary Authority said the ban, effective from today, covers also live cattle, embryos, and meat and bone meal. Ban on beef imports from Britain and Switzerland has been in force for six years now.

There have been no cases of the Creutzfeld-Jakob disease reported in the Czech Republic.

Our correspondent says the ban is largely formal as hardly any meat products have lately been imported from either France or Portugal.

Prague Civic Democrats displeased by Mayor's record

Prague city fathers from the main opposition Civic Democratic Party say they have little confidence in Prague's Mayor Jan Kasl, their fellow-partisan.

At a meeting of the Civic Democrat faction of the Town Hall, 14 representatives of 20 present expressed no confidence in Mr Kasl and said his nomination in 1998 would shortly be reviewed.

Mr Kasl has said he will resign if advised by his party to do so.

Centre-right opposition sweeps Czech Senate vote

The centre-right Four-Party Coalition swept the second round voting for one third of the Czech Senate, dealing a severe blow to the ruling Social Democrats.

The result from Sunday's poll effectively killed plans by the minority government and its parliamentary ally, the Civic Democrats, to slash the powers of President Vaclav Havel through constitutional reform.

The outcome, according to data from all constituencies posted by the Czech Statistical Bureau, boosted the Four-Party Coalition's faction in the Senate and stripped the Social and Civic Democrats of their majority in the 81-seat upper house.

Civic Democrat leader Vaclav Klaus says, however, that his party will not withdraw its support from the minority Social Democrat government despite that party's crushing defeat.

Havel, Klestil to discuss Czech nuclear plant

Austria's President Thomas Klestil is to visit Prague next Tuesday for talks with his Czech counterpart Vaclav Havel on the controversial Temelin nuclear power station.

In another development, the Czech government has proposed a top-level meeting with Austria next month to try to resolve the row between the two neighbours over Temelin.

The Czech side earlier cancelled a trip to Vienna by Prime Minister Milos Zeman because of border blockades by Austrian anti-nuclear activists. But a Foreign Ministry source has said the Czechs have now suggested a meeting between Mr Zeman and Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel on December 11, following the end of the blockades earlier this month.

The row over the safety of Temelin, built just over 50 km from the Austrian border, has grown into the Czechs' largest diplomatic conflict since the end of Communism 11 years ago.

The Temelin plant returned to five percent power level on Monday morning, some 40 hours after the reactor automatically shut down during a cooling pump test. Anti- nuclear groups in Austria and Germany used the Saturday morning incident as fodder for their continuing battle against the plant.

EU broadly backs expansion plan, but no dates

European Union foreign ministers meeting in Brussels have praised efforts by candidate countries to prepare for membership of the 15-nation bloc but avoided any new commitment on when they might join.

Frontrunning candidate countries like the Czech Republic have set themselves an ambitious target date of 2003 for entry and have been clamouring for firm indication on their dates.

Czech beer prices up

A group of three major Czech breweries has raised the prices of all its brands on the average by five percent.

Pilsner Urquell, Radegast and Velke Popovice said the prices had gone up 55 hallers per half litre of beer.

It is not clear what impact this will have on consumer prices. Most restaurants and pubs in Plzen have said they will not charge higher prices.

Czech weather report

And finally, the weather:

Tuesday's early morning lows will be between zero and plus four degrees Celsius, the skies will be cloudy with frequent showers in the lowlands and drizzle in the mountains. Daytime highs between six and 10 Celsius.