News Wednesday, APRIL 15th, 1998

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Radio Prague E-news date: April 15th, 1998 written/read by: Daniela Lazarova

Hello and welcome to the programme. I'm DL and we begin as usual with a brief domestic newsbulletin

Those were the headlines and now the news in more detail

Havel - health

President Vaclav Havel is in intensive care after undergoing emergency surgery in Austria Tuesday. Doctors say he is weakened but doing as well as can be expected . The president was airlifted to Insbruck University Clinic suffering a perforated intestine caused by an inflammation. Chief surgeon Ernst Bodner said after more than 3 hours of surgery on the Czech president that his condition was no longer life-threatening.

Meanwhile, the president's chief physician in Prague professor Cerbak rejected media speculation that Havel's cancer had recurred and said surgery showed no new malignant tumour. The president is unlikely to be transferred home in the coming days. Vaclav Havel was taken ill at the start of a two week holiday in the Alps. His wife Dagmar is at his bedside.

Parliament - NATO

After a day of debate the Lower House of Parliament is to vote on the Czech Republic's membership in NATO later today. Around 150 of the 200 deputies of the Lower House are expected to support NATO membership described at the start of the debate by foreign minister Jaroslav Sedivy as " the best guarantee for our security". Sedivy told the assembly the future of the country now lay in their hands, adding " I know it will be a good decision". In the Senate, the former ruling coalition has a two thirds majority and all three parties have declared unconditional support for NATO membership.

Opinion polls reveal that around 55% of Czechs now support their country's membership in NATO. A recent poll by the stem agency even put the figure at 63%.

Demonstration - NATO

As Parliament debated the issue, Czech artists and students staged a demonstration in favour of NATO membership on Prague Castle Square. Mock Nazi and Soviet occupation troops milled in the crowd - an attempt to bring to mind the painful lessons of Czech history. "It looks like a merry get together - but we feel this is a matter of vital significance for our future " actor-turned producer Ladislav Smoljak told the ctk newsagency. Those present signed a petition in favour of ratification. Meanwhile, 120 mostly elderly people turned up outside Parliament to demonstrate against NATO membership, accusing deputies of "selling the country".

NATO - ratification

So far Canada, Germany, Denmark and Norway have ratified NATO's expansion to the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland. A vote in the US Senate is expected at the end of April.

Government session

The Czech government on Tuesday agreed on a valorization of old-age pensions by 7,3% as of July 1st. This will put the average old age pension at 5,565 Czech crowns per month. The Cabinet also approved the defense minister's proposal to extend the participation of Czech troops in the SFOR peacekeeping mission in Bosnia by another 18 months. Expenditures to the tune of 600 million crowns will be financed from state funds and the 1998 defence budget.

Austria-Czech Republic - refugees

A Czech foreign ministry spokesman has denied alleged pressure from Austria for the Czech republic to introduce visa requirements for certain east European states, in particular Rumania. Apart from the televised programme in which Austria's interior minister Karl Schloegel expressed himself in favour of such a policy there have been no efforts to influence us in this direction, Rudolf Hynkl of the Czech foreign ministry told newsmen. He admitted that the problem of illegal immigrants had been on the agenda of talks between the Czech and Austrian foreign ministers in March, but said no states had been mentioned and no specific ways of dealing with the issue had been discussed. There are various means to make our eastern border more secure and the decision is ours to make, Hynkl stressed.

Bamberg scandal - investigation

Police has begun investigations into the Bamberg party financing scandal which exploded on the Czech political scene several weeks ago. Proffered evidence suggested that the leading opposition party of Social Democrats, widely expected to win the upcoming elections, had closed a money-for-power deal with Swiss-based businessmen of Czech origin. The Social Democrats claim they were framed on a series of innocent talks and insist the documents proffered as evidence were clearly fake. They have pressed charges against an unknown perpetrator. More than 10 top-level party members, including party boss Milos Zeman, will be called in for questioning within the next few days, a police spokesman said.

Asylum for Romany family

A 20 member Romany family from the Czech Republic has been granted asylum in Canada the ctk newsagency reports. This is the first case of asylum granted to any of the close to 1,000 Czech Romanies who arrived in Toronto late last year hoping to make a new life for themselves in the land of plenty. A documentary on TV NOVA showing Canada as a haven for immigrants helped fuel the exodus. The affair caused tension between Czech and Canadian authorities and resulted in a re-introduction of visa-requirements for all Czech visitors. Canada's decision to grant the family asylum may have been influenced by a recent report on growing skinhead violence against the Romany population in the Czech republic. The report says 28 Romanies were killed in the country since 1990.

Police report

Traffic police report that the Easter holidays have taken a sorry toll - 12 people were killed in car accidents over those three days alone. 66 people were gravely injured. The majority of accidents were reportedly caused by excessive alcohol consumption or speeding.

And finally the weather

Wednesday should be partly cloudy, with scattered showers in the western part of the country. Day temps between 11 and 15 degs C. Nighttime lows 2 to minus 2 degs.