News Wednesday, APRIL 19th, 2000

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Hello and a very warm welcome to Radio Prague. I'm Rob Cameron, and we start the programme with a brief news bulletin. First the headlines:

Those were the headlines, now for the news in more detail.

Demonstrators gather outside Czech embassy following human rights censure

An estimated 100,000 people have marched past the Czech embassy in Havana, in a state-organised protest against Prague's move to condemn Cuba's human rights record at a United Nations forum. The protest took place as the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva adopted a resolution co-sponsored by the Czech Republic and Poland to denounce President Fidel Castro for repressing political dissent and religious groups in Cuba. Havana accused its former ally of becoming a traitor and a lackey of the United States in its efforts to isolate Cuba. The country's entire broadcasting network was given over to showing live coverage of the march past the embassy.

Civic Democrat trial runs into difficulties on second day

A court case into the 1997 funding scandal surrounding Vaclav Klaus's Civic Democrat party has run into difficulties on its second day. Only one out of the three witnesses called to give testimony on Tuesday turned up in court. Libor Novak, then deputy chairman of the party, is being tried for tax evasion after signing financial declarations which contained fictitious donations to the party, covering up a single donation from a millionaire businessman. Mr Novak denies responsibility for the affair, saying he merely signed what was presented to him by his staff. The scandal led to the break-up of Mr Klaus's centre-right coalition in November 1997, followed by the split of his party. Mr Klaus, former Prime Minister, is expected to give evidence at the trial, but denies any responsibility for the affair.

Roma families file segregation suit with European Court of Human Rights

The families of eighteen Roma children from the Czech Republic have filed a suit in the European Court of Human Rights over alleged segregation. The families claimed the Czech government had placed their children in schools for the mentally deficient because of their race. Parents of the pupils, aged between eight and 15 and all from the Moravian city of Ostrava, turned to the European court after their case was rejected six months ago in a Czech court. Roma rights groups say Roma pupils outnumber non-Roma pupils in the special schools in Ostrava by a ratio of 27 to one.

Police arrest gang responsible for smuggling 2,000 refugees into EU

Police say they have arrested a gang of 20 people believed to be responsible for smuggling up to 2,000 asylum seekers across the Czech border into the European Union. Officers from the organised crime unit raided houses across the country on Tuesday, arresting suspected gang members and seizing weapons and false documents. A spokeswoman said the Czech police had collaborated with colleagues in Britain, Slovakia and Germany during the 18th-month operation. She said the gang helped organise the illegal migration of people from countries including Afghanistan, Pakistan and India to the European Union, smuggling them across borders in Eastern Europe.

Zeman seeks Havel's approval for remaining cabinet reshuffle

The Prime Minister, Milos Zeman, has formally asked President Vaclav Havel to accept the resignations of two ministers, the last to be exchanged in an ongoing cabinet reshuffle. The Transport Minister Antonin Peltram is to be replaced by the Social Democrat M.P. Jaromir Schling, while the Regional Development Minister Jaromir Cisar is to be replaced by the Social Democrat deputy chairman Petr Lachnit. President Havel, who is currently on holiday, is expected to appoint the new ministers in early May.

Czech Republic pledges support for Slovenian NATO bid

The Czech Republic has pledged its support for Slovenia's bid to join NATO. The Czech Foreign Minister, Jan Kavan, said he saw no reason why Slovenia shouldn't enter NATO as soon as 2002. Mr Kavan, speaking after a meeting in Prague with his Slovenian counterpart Dimitrij Rupel, also expressed his support for deepening ties between Slovenia and the so-called Visegrad group - an informal body consisting of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia. The Czech Republic joined NATO last year along with Poland and Hungary.

Weather

And I´ll end as usual with a quick look at Thursday's weather forecast. And it will be a rather cloudy day with scattered showers. Daytime temperatures will reach a maximum of 23 degrees Celsius, falling to five degrees at night.

I'm Rob Cameron, and that's the end of the news.