News Tuesday, NOVEMBER 24th, 1998

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.

Czech and Slovak leaders pledge new relationship

The leaders of the Czech and Slovak governments, Milos Zeman and Mikulas Dzurinda, met in Bratislava on Monday. They pledged closer ties and a quick resolution to property disputes that followed the split of Czechoslovakia in 1993. Czech premier Milos Zeman also assured his counterpart that the Czech government would do all it could to help Slovakia get back to the first wave of countries being considered for the European Union and NATO expansion.

Budget debate - first reading, second round

The chamber of deputies will begin its first reading of a new government draft for 1999's state budget this afternoon. This proposal envisages a deficit of 31 billion crowns. The government has taken note of lower house objections to the previous version, and hopes that the budget will eventually be approved. Premier Zeman is counting on support from the Christian Democrats and the Communists, but to date, neither party has declared it.

EU support steady -- poll

Almost three-fifths of Czechs support the Czech Republic's entry into the European Union, while one-fifth is against it, according to the latest poll conducted by the Institute for Public Opinion Research. Twenty-two percent of those asked were unable to give an opinion on the matter. There were somewhat fewer negative replies than there were in May's poll. Joining the EU tends to be more popular with people who have higher education, and those whose ages range between 30 and 44. Most Czechs agree with the view that admission to the EU will bring prosperity, as well as free movement of workers and goods across borders. The most-often cited objections to European Union accesssion were threats to the economy, and loss of sovereignty.

EC's report objective, balanced - Telicka

Representatives of the Czech government and the EU together with deputies to the Czech and European Parliaments agreed that the criticism contained in the recent European Commission's annual report on progress made by applicant countries was justified. Monday's discussion on the report opened a two-day session of the mixed parliamentary EU/Czech Republic committee. The chief Czech negotiator, deputy foreign minister Pavel Telicka, said the government was ready to rectify the shortcomings that it considered valid, and to conduct discussions with the EU on criticism in the report that it considered to be imprecise.

Kyrgyz president starts Czech visit in Karlovy Vary

Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev is visiting the Czech Republic. This is the first visit by a head of state of Kyrgyzstan to the Czech Republic. Akayev, who advocates a mixture of market economy with mildly authoritarian rule, is expected to meet with President Vaclav Havel and other high-ranking officials to exchange experience in economic and political transformation. In a speech in Karlovy Vary, Akayev pointed to the interest of former Soviet Union citizens in the Czech spa city. In recent years, Karlovy Vary has been attracting more and more of the so-called newly rich from the former Soviet Union. They are buying real estate in the town and engaging in various business activities.

EBRD 1998 Transition Report - Czechs must privatise banks

Only further progress in bank privatisation and implementation of financial sector reforms can help the Czech Republic attract more foreign investors and this is a vital step in its preparations for joining the European Union. This is one of the highlights of the Transition Report published by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. Among the biggest problems, the EBRD cites an excessive amount of bad loans - as much as 29 percent - which are concentrated mostly in the four biggest banks.

Havel mediator

Negotiations between the church and the government were renewed after president Havel mediated a meeting between cardinal Miroslav Vlk and culture minister Pavel Dostal. The two representatives said on Monday that the controversy of the past days was the result of mutual misunderstanding and was now over.

StB agent receives prison sentence

Former communist secret police agent Ladislav Macha has been sentenced to five years in prison. 75-year old Macha, who was active in the 1950's, was found guilty of illegal interrogation practices. During questioning, Macha and other StB agents tortured to death priest Josef Toufar.

No govt. with SocDem - Christian Democrats

The acting leader of the Christian Democratic Party, Jan Kasal, has ruled out the possibility of his party entering the minority Social Democrat cabinet, with tacit Communist support. In Kasal's opinion, there would be no point in replacing a one-party minority cabinet with a two-party minority coalition. Social Democrat leader Milos Zeman allegedly put this plan forward on Sunday, at a party leadership session.

Popularity - opinion poll

According to the latest opinion poll conducted by the Institute for Public Opinion Research, the Civic Democrats and the Social Democrats are equally popular - they would receive 28 percent of the vote if general elections were to be held now. The other three parties represented in parliament also enjoy equal support: 11 percent. The poll also confirmed that non-parliamentiary political parties are attracting very little voter interest, with none of them registering more than one percent support. The Social Democrats have lost almost 4.5 percent over the five months since the June parliamentary elections, while support for the Civic Democrats remained on the same level. The Christian Democrats and the Freedom Union have slightly strengthened their positions, compared to their election results, while support for the Communists has not changed since the elections.

Czech weather report

And finally, a brief look at the weather. We are expecting a mostly cloudy day. Afternoon highs should range from minus 1 degrees Celsius to 3 above.

And that's the end of the news.