News Wednesday, FEBRUARY 18th, 1998

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Radio Prague E-News date: February 18, 1998, 0800 UTC written/read by: Libor Kubik

These are the top stories from Prague. Now the news in more detail, read by Libor Kubik.

HAVEL-MINISTER-RESIGN

Czech President Vaclav Havel has asked Vice Premier Jiri Skalicky to withdraw for the time being his request to be relieved of his cabinet duties.

Skalicky, who is also environment minister, offered his resignation on Tuesday over a funding scandal in the small right-of-centre Civic Democratic Alliance, of which he is chairman.

Havel, who is in hospital, awaiting surgery, received Skalicky on Tuesday to tell him that his party should come clean within one week on a controversy over receiving dubious sponsorship gifts.

Skalicky said after a two-hour meeting with the president he would make a decision whether to resign by Monday.

PARTY-FRAUD-POLICE

Police investigators in Prague dismissed allegations on Tuesday they promised impunity to a former ranking official of ex-premier Vaclav Klaus's Civic Democratic Party in exchange for information leading to clarification of irregularities in the party's funding.

Former vice chairman Libor Novak is in police custody on charges of tax evasion in connection with several suspect sponsorship gifts. He could face up to eight years in jail if convicted.

CZECH-EU-APPLES

Czech Foreign Minister Jaroslav Sedivy said on Tuesday his country had made concessions in its dispute with the European Union over import quotas on fresh apples it had planned to introduce.

He said in Prague that after two rounds of technical talks in Brussels, Prague would now supplant import quotas by customs quotas permitting EU exporters to sell certain quantities of produce to the Czech Republic at more favourable prices.

Deputy Trade and Industry Minister Pavel Dvorak told CTK the Czech government had abandoned the idea of banning apple imports over and above a set quota. He said above-quota imports would be taxed by higher customs duties.

CZECH-SWEDEN-BOSNIA

Foreign Minister Sedivy and Swedish Defence Minister Bjoern von Sydow said in Prague on Tuesday that the multinational peacekeeping forces should stay deployed in Bosnia-Herzegovina even after the SFOR mandate expires in June.

The two ministers discussed also the situation in other parts of the Balkans, especially in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

SHADOW-HEALTH-INSURANCE

The Social Democrat shadow minister of public health, Ivan David, denied on Tuesday his party intends to increase health insurance taxes in case it forms the next Czech government.

His party colleague Vladimir Spidla, chairman of the parliamentary social and health committee, had earlier said the Social Democrats would step up health insurance fees if they win June's early elections.

David said his party's political programme included no such provision. He said Mr Spidla's remarks had not found support among key members of his party.

CZECH-NEONAZI-MURDER

Czech authorities have arrested three suspected neo-Nazis in connection with the drowning death of a 26-year-old Gypsy woman.

Police said on Tuesday the suspects were believed to have thrown the woman into the river Elbe late on Monday. A passer-by -- a female presenter of Czech Radio -- heard the woman's cries for help but was unable to reach her in the icy, fast-moving water.

Firefighters later pulled the would-be rescuer to safety and recovered the body of the Gypsy woman.

POLICE-AMERICAN-BOY-MISSING

At the request of U.S. authorities, Czech police launched a nationwide search on Tuesday for a missing American boy, 12- year-old Lamar Henderson. His mother believes the boy could be on Czech territory.

The American missing boy is white, has blue eyes and blonde hair, a small scar near the eyebrows, and a freckled nose. His left ear is pierced and he has a birthmark on the left thigh. Lamar speaks both English and Czech.

Any information should be communicated to any police station in the Czech Republic or through the police emergency telephone line 158.

NAGANO-HOCKEY-PROTEST

Ice hockey -- and in a quarter-final match in Nagano on Wednesday, the Czech Republic beat the United States four goals to one.

CZECH-WEATHER

A quick look at the weather -- we had some scattered showers at night, some snowfall in the mountains, and nighttime lows between two and six below freezing. Maximum daytime temperatures on Wednesday are from four to eight Celsius above zero, and around two degrees at the altitude of 1000 metres.

Thursday's weather in the Czech Republic will be influenced by a high-pressure area. We expect clear skies but also occasional rainy spells. Daytime highs from eight to 12 degrees Celsius.

And that's the end of the news.