News Wednesday, FEBRUARY 23rd, 2000

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Hello and a very warm welcome to the programme. 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:

Czech - Poland EU

Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski on the second and last day of his state visit to the Czech Republic is set to leave for Moravia after a brief meeting with Prime Minister Milos Zeman. Once in Brno, Moravia, Kwasniewski will receive a medal from Masaryk University and be shown round the constitutional court by Czech Justice minister Otakar Motejl and meet the Brno town mayor for dinner before leaving for Poland in the evening.

On Tuesday, the Polish President met with his Czech counterpart in Prague and announced that the Czech Republic and Poland are not competitors but partners in their bids to join the European Union. Speaking at a joint news conference, Vaclav Havel said that both countries are working hard for entry to the European Union and would like to be admitted by the end of 2002. Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski said both countries stand a chance of becoming full EU members at the same time, but spoke of 2003 as an entry date. The EU has already said that its own internal reforms must be concluded by the end of 2002, before any new members are accepted. According to Czech President Vaclav Havel, these institutional reforms should not prevent or slow down the process of expansion. Finally both Presidents reiterated their support for further NATO enlargement. Later in the day, Aleksander Kwasniewski strolled around Prague. He walked over Charles bridge and up to the Old Town Square, where he was met by Prague Mayor Jan Kasal who presented him with a key to the City of Prague.

Grulich slams Zeman

Czech Interior Minister has launched a scathing attack on Prime Minister Milos Zeman for his treatment of ministers. On Tuesday evening, Grulich said Milos Zeman was postponing a planned cabinet reshuffle and that ministers were not being informed of changes. This comes after Milos Zeman assured Grulich last month, that he would remain in his job, only to offer the post of Interior Minister to Chairman of the Social Democrats in the Chamber of deputies, Stanislav Gross. According to Vaclav Grulich, the way Zeman is dismissing ministers and securing new candidates for the job is „unfair“.

Experts on Czech - Roma ties

Two experts from the Council of Europe continue their visit to the Czech Repubic, where they are assessing Czech - Roma relations. John Murray and Robin Oakley who are in the northern town of Usti nad Labem, said on Tuesday evening that after their visit, which ends on Wednesday, they will submit a report to the Council of Europe, outlining ways in which Czech - Roma relations could be improved. On Wednesday they are set to meet leading Roma representatives and members of the town council. They will also visit the infamous Maticni Street where a wall was built last year, separating Roma from Czechs.

Grulich and Havel - Crime and Banking

Czech Interior Minster Vaclav Grulich held talks with President Vaclav Havel on Tuesday on the topic of crime within the banking sector over the last few years. According to a spokesman, Grulich said that of the 14 alleged attacks on the Czech National Bank and problems connected to fraud and embezzlement over half are under investigation. The same spokesman said that Vaclav Havel wanted to know how false information was recently leaked (in the case of the Agrobanka bankruptcy) that police were to charge CNB officials. Havel allegedly suggested that the leak was motivated by financial interests that wanted to discredit the Czech National bank and said it would be dangerous if financial interests were able to influence police, media and politicians. Interior Minister Vaclav Grulich later said that it is very difficult to determine the motives behind the escalating number of crimes, since many of them date back to the early nineties.

Zeman in Paris

A delegation headed by Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman has concluded a two day visit to France. Zeman was in France earlier in the week, lobbying for increased investment in the Czech Republic and French support for Czech entry to the European Union in 2003. Following talks with French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, Milos Zeman said he was delighted to hear that the French government supports the Czech Republic becoming a member of the European Union in three years time. France is set to take over EU presidency in July. Both Prime Ministers said that if French EU presidency is successful, internal EU reforms could be concluded in time, enabling the expansion process to go ahead.

Other items on the agenda during talks were Czech - French ties and the inclusion of the controversial far right Freedom Party in the new Austrian government.

On Tuesday, Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman also gave a speech at the French Foreign Trade Centre, in which he called for greater French investment in the Czech Republic. Zeman said he was disappointed that French banks had not so far participated in the privatisation of the Czech banking sector. A senior French banker representing BNP/Paribas later said his group was interested in expansion in the Czech Republic. The Czech Prime Minister reminded everyone at the conference of the potential in Czech markets and urged French businessmen to consider Czech industry and tax advantages. One of the bankers present pointed out the paradox between Czech government efforts to attract investment and the new restrictive Czech laws for foreigners seeking residency in the Czech Republic. Milos Zeman said these laws are a requirement for membership of the European Union and said his government would work at clarifying some of the grey areas.

Kavan and Papandreou

Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan met his Greek counterpart George Papandreou on Tuesday in Athens. Papandreou expressed his support for Czech membership of the European Union and mentioned 2003 as a suitable date for admitting the first wave of candidates. The Czech Republic began membership negotiations in 1998. Both Ministers on Tuesday said it was necessary to safeguard the identity of the European Union so that the member states could resolve problems and conflicts in Europe. On Wednesday, Papandreou and Kavan are expected to sign a memorandum of Czech - Greek relations outlining economic ties and efforts for the reconstruction of the Balkans. Both ministers expressed concern on Tuesday at tensions in Kosovo and said the province should remain home to Serbs and Albanians.

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

It's set to get a little warmer on Wednesday with clearer skies and temperatures hovering at around zero. There could be more snow overnight though as it will be considerably cooler with temperatures dropping to as low as -7.

That's the end of the news.