News Wednesday, FEBRUARY 09th, 2000

Hello and a very warm welcome to the programme, I'm Pauline Newman, 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:

Havel / Zeman / Ministers

Czech President Vaclav Havel is to appoint a new Health Minister on Wednesday. The announcement came on Tuesday afternoon, after Havel met with Prime Minster Milos Zeman. He told waiting journalists that once the budget for this year has been approved, he intends to change five ministers. Leader of the opposition Civic Democrats Vaclav Klaus, expressed his surprise when he heard the news, telling journalists he had expected the cabinet re- shuffle to take place before the next vote on the budget.

Although neither Havel nor Zeman have revealed who will be taking over at the Health Ministry there has been speculation that the candidate will most likely be a professor at the medical faculty of Brno University Bohumil Fiser. Fiser endorsed this opinion, by saying that he will be in Prague on Wednesday, adding that he is not allowed to give the official reason for his trip. The chosen candidate will be taking over from deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla, who has been standing in since the demise of Ivan David last year.

Havel / Zeman / EU

On Tuesday, both Czech President Vaclav Havel and Prime Minister Milos Zeman expressed support for the European Union stance on the new Austrian government. The Union has frozen diplomatic ties with Austria in protest against the inclusion of Joerg Haider and his Freedom Party in the government. Havel and Zeman rejected claims that the European Union is intervening in internal Austrian affairs. They also criticized Czech leader of the opposition Vaclav Klaus for his comments last week, that the position adopted by the EU is a greater evil than Haider's Freedom Party.

Social Democrat Chairman of the Austrian Parliament, Heinz Fischer, was quick to assure Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman on Tuesday, that Austria has no intention of disrupting current ties with Prague. He stressed that Vienna wants to continue on the road to European Union expansion eastward. Heinz Fischer also said that European Union states should be careful and differentiate between the policies of individual politicians, parties and Austria as a whole.

This comes amid continued concern on the Prague political scene regarding the new Austrian government. Chairman of the Czech Senate's Foreign Committee Michal Zantovsky said on Tuesday, that the Austrian government's proclamation issued last week, has sent out unclear and confused signals. He commented that the states of central and Eastern Europe, must safeguard the principles of tolerance and democracy.

Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan said on Monday, that he was worried about points in the new Austrian Government's manifesto on property claims for Germans expelled to Austria during the Second World War. Czech shadow Foreign Minister Jan Zahradil of the Civic Democrat party, voiced his support for Kavan, on Tuesday, adding that these are closed chapters in history which cannot be re-opened.

Russia / Visa for Czechs

Although the Russian Foreign Ministry has not officially said that Czechs visiting Russia will in the future need visas, there is speculation that Moscow is preparing to introduce this measure. Moscow based diplomatic sources have been quoted as saying that hypothetically speaking, the move is to be expected. Observers say this is in reaction to a recent decision by the Czech government to impose a visa requirement on Russians as well as Ukrainians and Belarussians.

Verheugen / Expansion

European Union Commissioner Gunter Verheugen said on Tuesday that the inclusion of the far right, anti-immigrant Freedom Party in Austria's new government will not derail European Union plans for eastward expansion. There has been concern that Joerg Haider's Freedom Party would slow down the enlargement talks with candidate countries including the Czech Republic. Haider has been especially critical of the entry of eastern European immigrants in to the European Union.

Gunter Verheugen admitted that fears of a drop in living standards and increased pressure on labour markets, especially in frontier EU nations, need to be taken seriously.

The Czech government has been negotiating with the European Union since last spring and although the EU has set no fixed deadline for expansion, Verheugen did say that pressure for setting target dates for the process was likely to grow in 2000. Speaking in Brussels at a press conference, Verheugen said that the ratification of a new EU treaty set to be negotiated as of next week, would be needed before a target date could be set. He stressed that the two processes were intertwined.

Customs / Artifacts

Czech customs officials say they have confiscated historical artifacts from four Polish men, who were trying to smuggle the objects over the Czech - Polish border in a car. Experts say the smuggled cargo consists of religious icons, statuettes, historical coins and German badges dating back to the Second World War. Their value has been estimated at several thousand pounds. Although the customs officials let the men off with heavy fines, the goods were kept behind as investigators try and trace their origins.

Sport / Hockey / Football

Finally, Tuesday was a good day for Czech Republic as far as sport is concerned. First of all, the Czech football team taking part in the Carlsberg Cup in Hong Kong, beat Mexico 2:1 in the final on Tuesday. The victory which saw them beating a team ranked tenth in the world, also carries 40 000 US Dollars worth of prize money. Later in the day, there was more reason for celebrations as news came through that the Czech hockey team had won its initial match against Russia in the last leg of the Euro hockey Tour in Stockholm, Sweden. The Czechs beat the Russians 6-2. Their next game is this evening against Finland.

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

The current spell of warm weather we have been having over the last few days is set to continue into the middle of the week. Wednesday will see daytime temperatures steady at roughly 7 degrees Celsius, dropping over night to zero. There will be some wind though with scattered rain in some areas.

I'm Pauline Newman and that's the end of the news.