News Wednesday, JANUARY 03th, 2001

By: Libor Kubik

Czech Public TV in Turmoil

A public rally in defence of freedom of speech and in support of Czech Television is scheduled to take place in Prague's central Wenceslas Square this at afternoon. The meeting starts at five p.m.

President Vaclav Havel says he doesn't wish to publicly comment on the tumultuous affairs at the public service Czech Television. The president withdrew from a Czech Radio discussion programme on Tuesday, saying he would first analyse the outcomes of a parliamentary debate.

The station's rebellious staff are on strike to demand the resignation of their newly- appointed general director, Jiri Hodac. Ththe channel's steering council says there's no need for him to step down. But four members of the Czech Television Council have called on him to resign.

The station's rebellious staff have the support of the International Federation of Journalists. The Brussels-based organisation appealed to the European Union and the Council of Europe to exert pressure on the Czech authorities and make them condemn the behaviour of Mr Hodac and his team.

The federation's General Secretary Aidan White said in an interview with the CTK news agency that the striking journalists had the support of their colleagues worldwide in their quest for ending censorship and manipulation of the media.

The strike also has the support of two of the country's leading labour organisations. The unions demand the immediate end to all sanctions against the striking employees of Czech Television.

Strike hits Czech TV hard

Czech politicians have failed to find a way to end a two-week-old battle for control of public television. The Social Democrat government has called on Mr Hodac to resign to open way for negotiations, but the Prime Minister, Milos Zeman, says that either no one should quit or both sides should do so. Political leaders met as union leaders demanded an end to the management-ordered blackouts of newscasts prepared and transmitted to limited audiences by the station's rebellious staff.

The journalists, who have occupied the station's newsroom since December 24, want the newly hired General Director Jiri Hodac to resign, claiming he is politically biased. Mr Hodac has denied the criticism and called the strike illegal. His newly appointed programme director has refused the job.

Despite the strike, protesting journalists continue to produce their own newscasts, while a team led by Mr Hodac has produced competing news programmes from a commercial TV studio.

Austrian anti-nuke campaigner refused Czech entry

Austria's anti-nuclear campaigner has protested to President Vaclav Havel after being stopped twice from entering the Czech Republic. Mr Josef Puehringer of the "Supra-Party Platform Against Nuclear Danger" said on Tuesday that despite his valid passport and other documents, he was turned back in his car by Czech border guards. Last autumn, Mr Puehringer was repeatedly at the head of demonstrations and blockades of the Austrian-Czech border in protest against the Czech nuclear power station at Temelin.

Former Gestapo officer charged with murder

A former Gestapo officer who allegedly tortured and killed Jews "out of boredom" was charged by German authorities with three counts of murder in connection with inmate deaths at Terezin concentration camp north of Prague in World War Two. Prosecutors in Munich said they had irrefutable evidence that Anton Malloth killed three Jewish inmates in the final years of the war. Czechoslovakia condemned Malloth in absentia to death in 1948 but that ruling was overturned by the country's supreme court in 1968. A prolonged German investigation received new life last year when Czech authorities handed over documents dating from the 1948 case.

EU car imports no longer subject to customs duty

Passenger cars produced in the European Union, which have until now been burdened with a nearly 3.5 percent customs duty, are now being imported to the Czech Republic without the duty. The move stems from an agreement between the Czech Republic and the EU. However, our correspondent says the lifting of the duty will not be reflected in the prices of European cars. The importers have indicated they will not change their prices as the cutdown on the customs duty is rather small. The correspondent says that the cancellation of the customs duty will reduce the retail prices of imported vehicles by only about three percent. Cars imported from other parts of the world, such as Asia, will still be burdened with a 17 percent customs duty.

Ice Hockey: Czech Under-20 team beats Swiss in Moscow

Ice-hockey -- and at the world under-20 championships in Moscow, the Czech Republic beat Switzerland four goals to three and proceeded to Wednesday's semifinals. They will meet Sweden, who beat Russia in the quarterfinals on Tuesday.

Czech weather report

And finally, a look at the weather in the Czech Republic.

On Wednesday, drizzle and ice will complicate traffic in the morning. We expect early morning lows around freezing point. The skies will remain overcast during the day, with scattered rain and snow showers. Daytime highs in Bohemia between one and five degrees Celsius, and around freezing in Moravia and Silesia. On Thursday and Friday, we expect cloudy skies with plenty of drizzle that could freeze on the roads in the morning. There will be frequent snow showers in the mountains. Nighttime lows around zero Celsius or slightly below. Daytime highs between one and five degrees above freezing.