News Wednesday, DECEMBER 02th, 1998

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Hello and a warm welcome to the programme. I'm David Vaughan. First the headlines.

And now the news in more detail.

Ministers and Pigs

Problems associated with EU pork exports to the Czech Republic were the only topic of talks on Tuesday in Bonn between the Czech agriculture minister, Jan Fencl and his German counterpart, Karl-Heinz Funke. Mr Fencl travelled to Bonn in the hope of winning the support of the Czech Republic's largest EU trade partner, in its current row with the Union. The Czech Republic has accused the EU of flooding Czech markets with cheap subsidised pork. After talks, he said that Mr Funke had understood the Czech standpoint and would almost certainly help contribute towards a reasonable solution to the row. However, Mr Fencl did not give any more specific details. The EU and Czech officials are to hold further talks next week.

Nato Ratification

One of the final barriers to Czech membership of Nato has been overcome, as the Netherlands on Tuesday became the last Nato country to ratify expansion. Only two deputies in the Dutch parliament voted against the motion. The Czech ambassador to the Alliance, Karel Kovanda, said that Nato expansion to incorporate the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary is now little more than a formality. Czech foreign minister, Jan Kavan, said that the three countries plan to hand their entrance documents to the Alliance simultaneously. They are widely expected to become full members at some point between January and the Nato summit in April.

Elections in Question

The results of last month's local elections in Prague have been called into serious question, after a Prague city court concluded that there were irregularities in the Prague district of Dubec. Some people found that their polling cards had already been filled out before they even received them. The court's findings cast doubt on the results to six seats on the city council, including those of two of the main political rivals on the Prague political scene, Jan Koukal and Martin Bursik. Up to a hundred thousand Prague citizens may have to go to the polls again, which could lead to shift in the balance of power in the city hall. The final decision lies in the hands of the interior minister, Vaclav Grulich.

Miners' Bodies Found

The bodies of two miners missing since Monday after an accident at a mine in the town of Karvina have been recovered. The two men had been carrying out a routine examination of a disused shaft, and probably died as a result of the intense heat in the shaft. The body of a third miner was found nearby on Monday.

Corrupt Police Office Jailed

A prominent Prague police officer from the bureau investigating economic crime, has himself been sentenced to four-and-a-half years in jail. A Prague court found Jan Mares guilty of abusing his powers and accepting bribes. He accepted 250 000 crowns from a former board member of the firm Skloexport, in return for not investigating the man's criminal activities.

New Head of Communist Investigations

The Bureau for the Investigation of Communist Crimes, set up to look into the crimes of the former regime, has a new head. Irenej Kratochvil has been appointed after the resignation of his predecessor Marian Gula following a car accident he caused while drunk.

Czech-Vietnamese Relations

The Prime Minister Milos Zeman has said that the Czech Republic hopes for a significant improvement in trade relations with Vietnam, traditionally an important trade partner, seen in the Czech Republic as a gateway to Asian markets. During talks in Prague with the Vietnamese Foreign Minister, Nguyen Manh Cam, Mr Zeman said that Vietnam may still be a developing country, but in fifteen to twenty years it will be a major regional power. Mr Zeman pointed out that because of traditional links between the two countries, Czech is one of the most widely spoken foreign languages in Vietnam. Both men agreed that a period of stagnation in Czech-Vietnamese relations has now been overcome, and to stress the point Mr Zeman said there are long-term plans to open a Czech consulate in Ho-Chi-Min City.

President Havel has said that the Czech Republic's large Vietnamese community is welcome and bodes well for a future strengthening of relations between the two countries. During a meeting in Prague with the Vietnamese foreign minister, Nguyen Manh Cam, Mr Havel said there are virtually no problems with the Vietnamese community in this country. Both men agreed that with the foundations now laid for closer economic ties, there is now space for improving Czech-Vietnamese cultural links. Mr Manh Cam's current four-day visit to the Czech Republic aims to help rebuild the close links that existed between the two countries before the fall of the Prague communist regime.

Social Democrats Criticised Over Church

The ruling Social Democrats have been criticised by the head of their own commission for church affairs, Zdenek Kotrly, for what he described as their anti-clerical position. In an interview for the CTK press agency, Mr Kotrly pointed to demographic reasons, saying that the party's stance is a long-term vote-loser. In a few years, he said, practising Christians will be in the majority in the Czech Republic, because they tend to have more children. He also pointed out that for the first time since 1914 over half of Czech children are being baptised.

Havel Still Popular But Support Falling

Despite growing controversy over his regular interventions on the Czech political scene, a new opinion poll suggests that President Havel still enjoys far greater public support than either chamber of the Czech Parliament. But the poll, commissioned by the Sofres-Factum agency, also seems to indicate that public confidence in Mr Havel has fallen significantly over recent months. A spokesman from the agency said that this year has seen a shift in Mr Havel's position in society, because for the first time there is a strong lobby calling for him to resign.

Iraq and RFE

The Iraqi government has responded with contempt to broadcasts recently launched to Iraq by the US financed Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty based in Prague. Iraqi officials said that the country is already so bombarded by radio stations trying to undermine the government of Saddam Hussain, that the latest broadcasts are nothing more than a drop in the ocean, and the government will not even attempt to block the signal. The launch of RFE's broadcasts from Prague caused controversy in the Czech Republic earlier this year over fears that they could make the country the victim of a potential terrorist attack.

New Mayor of Brno

The Czech Republic's second city, Brno, has a new mayor, Petr Duchon from the opposition Civic Democratic Party of Vaclav Klaus. His candidacy was uncontested and he was voted in by a large majority of city councillors. He had previously held the position of deputy mayor and his predecessor, Dagmar Lastovecka, said he enjoyed her full support.

Weather

And a look at the weather...

It will remain very cold with temperatures on Wednesday between minus 3 and 1 degree Celsius, and it will be overcast with light snow showers. On Thursday and Friday it should be a little warmer, but we can expect more snow.

Today's Events

And finally a quick look at some things coming up today, The parliamentary constitutional committee will be meeting to discuss possible changes to the status of the Senate, following the poor turn-out in last month's Senate elections, we'll be keeping you informed of today's continuing session of the lower house of the Czech Parliament, and a special Czech Christmas exhibition will be opening this afternoon at Prague's City Museum, just by Florenc metro station.

And that's the end of the news.