News Wednesday, DECEMBER 20th, 2000

By Daniela Lazarova

EU candidates play down Schroeder remarks over free movement of labour

At a Visegrad Group summit in the Slovak capital Bratislava, the prime ministers of the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia played down remarks by German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder that EU newcomers might have to wait seven years for full access to Western jobs. Addressing newsmen on behalf of his Slovak and Polish counterparts, the Czech Prime Minister said the proposed restriction had come from a single member country of the European Union. "There may be fears, even if unreasonable, on the part of Germany and Austria , but I have yet to hear similar views from Ireland, Spain, Portugal, France or the Scandinavian states" Zeman pointed out. Although the Hungarian head of Cabinet was not present at the summit, the Hungarian foreign ministry has issued an equally negative stand, calling the German Chancellor's statement "unrealistic". News agencies point out that an eight year waiting period was imposed on Spain and Portugal before their workers were able to take jobs in the EU.

Petr Pithart re-elected Senate Chairman

Petr Pithart, the former Senate chairman who lost his post as a result of a controversial power-sharing pact, has been re-elected after a two-year break. Mr Pithart was elected as the Senate's first chairman in 1996, but lost the position in 1998 due to a controversial power-sharing pact between the Social Democrats and Civic Democratic Party. His Civic Democrat predecessor, Libuse Benesova, lost her Senate seat in recent elections. Mr Pithart won the candidacy in a secret ballot gaining 50 of 79 votes. Jan Ruml of the Freedom Union, Premysl Sobotka of the Civic Democrats and Zdenek Vojir of the Social Democratic Party were elected deputy chairmen.

Board of Czech Television under pressure to resign

The Supervisory Board of Czech Television, the country's public television network, is under strong pressure to resign, amidst allegations of mismanagement and failing to resist political pressure. The board recently dismissed the General Director of Czech Television Dusan Chmelicek for alleged poor performance. Tuesday's meeting at which the board was to discuss a suitable successor turned into a stormy debate with opponents of the move and accusations that the decision had been made under political pressure. Senators Michael Zantovsky and Jan Ruml have joined the protests calling on the Supervisory Board not to appoint a new General Director until a new law on Czech Television goes into effect. According to the Senators the new law should guarantee Czech Public Television real independence. President Havel has made his own views on the matter public, saying that in his opinion Chmelicek's dismissal did not appear to be well grounded.

Politicians deny trying to influence public TV broadcasting

Meanwhile, representatives of the country's two largest political parties, the governing Social Democrats and the right-of-centre Civic Democrats, have rejected accusations that they have been exerting political pressure on the board of Czech Television and have repeatedly attempted to influence programming. Civic Democrat leader Vaclav Klaus said in a statement for the media on Tuesday that his party was not behind Chemelicek's dismissal, and that the matter had never come up during party discussions. A leading Social Democrat member of Parliament Zdenek Skoromach admitted that the most recent developments at Czech Television had been debated by the party leadership, but he said the meeting was merely an exchange of information.

Two skinheads sent to prison for racially motivated attack

A court in Karvina, eastern Moravia, has sent two skinheads to prison for a racially motivated attack resulting in death. Petr Domes and David Jurecka, were found guilty of inflicting grievous bodily harm to Milan Lacko, whom they beat up and left lying in the middle of a road unconscious. Lacko was run over by a car some time later. Domes and Jurecka were sentenced to three and one year in prison respectively. The driver, who claimed the accident was unavoidable, received a suspended eighteen months sentence.

Austrian anti-nuclear lobby attempts to drum up more opposition to Temelin

Austrian anti-nuclear protesters have demonstrated in Vienna against the recent Czech-Austrian agreement on the Temelin nuclear power plant. Driving a convoy of 40 vehicles through the streets of Vienna on Tuesday, they attempted to drum up more public opposition to the nuclear power plant, situated just 50 kms from the Austrian border. Members of the protest, called "Wake up Vienna", delivered a list of demands to the Czech Embassy and the Austrian Parliament warning of the dangers of nuclear power. The Austrian anti-nuclear lobby rejected an agreement reached last week by Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel and Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman. Prague agreed to an environmental impact study sponsored by the European Union, and will not put Temelin into full operation until the study is completed. Austria's nuclear opponents, meanwhile, are demanding the plant be closed down for a thorough inspection.

Czech-Austrian presidential summit to be overshadowed by nuclear controversy

The nuclear power controversy is also expected to dominate Wednesday's meeting between Austrian President Tomas Klestil and Czech President Vaclav Havel. The meeting, which was initially scheduled for the end of November and had to be postponed due to president Havel's ill health, has been described as "an effort to diffuse tension in bilateral relations." President Klestil's office said on Tuesday that the two heads of state had no intention of trying to influence the course of official negotiations between Prague and Vienna, but would naturally discuss the controversy.

Cabinet postpones decision on fighter jets

The Czech Cabinet has once more postponed a decision on a proposed 100 billion crown contract aimed at modernizing the country's outdated airforce. The decision on whether to buy up to 36 new supersonic fighter jets is thus to be delayed at least until after New Year. British, French, Swedish, American and a European consortium of aircraft makers are vying for the 100 billion crown contract, the largest ever for the Czech Army.

And finally a quick look at the weather:

Winter is well and truly here. There was snow on the ground in many parts of Prague this morning and we can expect more of that since night temperatures are to drop to seven degrees below zero on Tuesday night. Wednesday's day temperatures have been forecast at between minus three to one degree above freezing point.