News Wednesday, DECEMBER 08th, 1999

Hello and a very warm welcome to the programme. I’m Bill Bathurst, first we start with a look at the main headlines of the day:

You are tuned to Radio Prague. Those were the headlines, now let’s take a look at the news in full:

Kavan flays Russia over ultimatum

Czech foreign Minister Jan Kavan, joined the wave of international condemnation of Russia on Tuesday. In reaction to Russia’s ultimatum to Grozny, Jan Kavan said waging war on civilians will not stamp out terrorism in the region. This comes as Russian helicopters scattered leaflets all over the Chechen capital warning residents of annihilation if they did not leave by the weekend. Kavan said the Czech Republic’s stance on the issue has not changed. He said that while Prague recognized that Chechnya is a part of Russia, Czech concerns about the violations of human rights cannot be construed as interference in internal affairs of the Russian Federation. Kavan added that it would be absurd to suggest that every Chechen is a terrorist and again protested that Russia’s violent methods were unacceptable.

The Russian military commented on Tuesday that only small numbers of people had so far left the city and observers say that many people hiding in basements are unaware of the Russian ultimatum.

There has been an outcry on the international political scene at Russia’s latest move in the conflict. U.S. President Bill Clinton has warned that the deaths of large numbers of civilians in Grozny would blacken Russia’s reputation. Germany called for a political solution to the Chechnya crisis on Tuesday, and demanded that the ultimatum be withdrawn. British Foreign secretary Robin Cook warned Russia it risked losing future European Union aid if it escalated its military campaign.

CR accepts another EU capital

The Czech Republic concluded a vital stage in its preparations for European Union membership on Tuesday in Brussels by showing that it is able to accept the Union’s enforced regulations on Free Trade. European Union Foreign Ministers and their deputies held talks on Tuesday, with representatives of six nations hoping to join the 15 nation bloc. So far, the Czech Republic has been the only candidate country to sign what is known in E.U. jargon as „capitals“. These are bodies of rules that new members have to satisfy on issues such as free trade, transport, social affairs, and employment. The Czech Republic along with the other candidates will be eligible for membership when it has sufficiently adjusted to European Union standards.

Klaus disappoints Zeman

Talks on the budget between Czech Premier Milos Zeman, and leader of the largest opposition party the Civic Democrats Vaclav Klaus, ended inconclusively for Zeman on Tuesday. He failed to persuade Klaus to lend his party’s support to the budget. Following a two hour meeting, both politicians said the talks had been „informative“ but declined to reveal any further details. Klaus ruled out the possibility of his party approving the Social democrat budget, saying a deficit of 42 billion crowns was too high.

Milos Zeman had called for the talks, in order to ensure that the budget would gain the approval of the opposition parties, before it is discussed in parliament on Wednesday. Two other Parliamentary parties, the Christian Democrats and the Freedom Union boycotted the talks, saying they would not be accomplices in any behind the scenes agreements between Klaus and Zeman. They said on Tuesday that they agreed to attend the talks only once the budget had been discussed in Parliament and commented that Czech integration into the European Union was supposed to have been the main item on the agenda.

Lansky fined by CNB

The Czech National bank is to give former Deputy Premier Egon Lansky a fine for having broken the foreign account’s law by opening a bank account in Austria without permission. A spokesman for the bank said on Tuesday that the fine is likely to amount to tens of thousands of crowns. He could not say exactly how much it would be, adding that Lansky would be able to appeal against the decision. This comes after Lansky resigned recently amid speculation that he opened the account without the permission of the Czech National bank. A negative European Union report on the Czech Republic in October also gave rise to claims that Lansky had put in a poor performance as minister responsible for European Union integration.

Havel and Zeman on cabinet personnel

Czech President Vaclav Havel is to meet with Premier Milos Zeman on Wednesday for talks on personnel changes within the government. Zeman is expected to offer Havel a replacement candidate for former deputy Premier Egon Lansky and discuss the political future of Health minister Ivan David, who is supposed to resign at some point in the near future. Zeman said earlier in the week, that he will hand over David’s resignation to Havel on Wednesday, with the suggestion that Deputy Premier Vladimir Spidla run the Health Ministry for the next two months. Observers say that Egon Lansky who resigned recently is likely to be taken over by Foreign Minister Jan Kavan. This comes after President Havel said last week, that he would like to see Zeman himself taking over from Lansky at the head of the government committee for European Integration.

Unemployment rate

The Ministry for Labour and Social Affairs is set to publish the figures showing the unemployment rate during November. Analysts say they are expecting unemployment to return to 9% after having dropped to just under in October. A slight increase in the number of unemployed at the end of the year, is only to be expected according to experts. They put it down to seasonal trends.

Support for David

The Association of Patients has sent President Vaclav Havel a letter in support of Health Minister Ivan David, who is under pressure on all sides to resign on grounds of incompetence. In the document, the Association refers to David as the first post 1989 Minister to show an interest in patients and alleges that the only reason the Health Minister is facing dismissal, is because several groups are trying to maintain their hold over funds at the Health Ministry. David allowed the group to set up office in his building, when they needed premises.

Poll on NATO popularity

Nearly half the Czech population sees membership of NATO positively. An opinion poll carried out last month, revealed on Tuesday that 49% of Czechs are pleased the country has joined the alliance, 30% said they were against and 21% said they were not sure. Researchers noted that with the exception of the Kosovo crisis, many people expressed their long term approval of NATO and its missions. Most people who support Czech membership of NATO were men, rather than women, right wing voters and people living in and around Prague.

And we end as usual with a brief look at the weather:

Wednesday will see a cool, cloudy start to the day, with rain or snow in the mountains. Daytime temperatures are expected to range from 3 to 7 degrees Celsius, dropping overnight to zero.