News Wednesday, JANUARY 19th, 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:

The debate on this year's budget has been postponed until the 26th January

The proposal for this year's budget was not debated in the Czech Parliament on Tuesday as planned. It was postponed until the 26th January. Chairman of the Social Democrat's Club of Deputies Stanislav Gross called for the move, shortly after Parliament met for its January Session, saying political talks on the budget have not yet been concluded. These "talks" began on Friday between the Social Democrats and the largest opposition party, the Civic Democrats. They are trying to come to an agreement on deepening their power sharing deal, known as the opposition agreement. The Civic Democrats are using the budget, which needs their support to make it through Parliament, as a bargaining card. Unless their demands on the new opposition agreement are met, along with changes to the constitution, they will not lend their support to the budget.

Civic Democrat deputy Chairman Ivan Langer told reporters that negotiations on electoral reform would start this week and that he expected talks to be tough. Czech finance Minister Pavel Mertlik said on Tuesday, that the draft budget for the year 2000 will probably be approved in its next reading. He was speaking after talks with Chairman of the Civic Democrat's Club of Deputies, Vlastimil Tlusty. While both acknowledged that there are still some points on which the two parties differ, namely on tax levels, they were optimistic, saying they had managed to come to an agreement on several aspects of the draft budget. The minority government's latest draft proposes a 35.2 billion crown deficit. The cabinet's two earlier drafts were killed by the opposition dominated lower house, and the country began the year on a provisional budget.

Prison directors say demand have been met

The directors of 15 Czech prisons agreed on Tuesday evening, that several demands made by prisoners who demonstrated last Tuesday, have already been met. A government official liasing with prison administrators said that although short term problems may be resolved, other more serious long term issues will not be overlooked. He added that there may be personnel changes within prisons and dismissed alleged hunger strikes saying the prisoners are secretly receiving food from other inmates. The short term problems which authorities are able to deal with includes providing inmates with better food, improved hygiene and the chance to watch television. The Czech prison service is working on a report for the Ministry of Justice, which should clarify and analyse the reasons for last week's disturbances in Czech prisons, as inmates last week rioted in protest against overcrowding and poor conditions.

Activists, demanding a change of leadership are seriously considering creating a political party

Former student activists who last November, began calling for a change of political leadership said on Tuesday that they may well, as a last resort form a political party. This is in reaction to attempts between two main Czech parties to deepen their controversial power sharing agreement. One of the signatories of the "Thank you now please leave" petition, attacked steps being taken between Prime Minister Milos Zeman's Social Democrats and the main opposition party the Civic Democrats, led by Vaclav Klaus, to bolster the opposition agreement, calling it "An attack on democracy". He indicated that the activists could set up a political party in order to compete with Klaus and Zeman in the next elections. Speaking to journalists, he called for a fairer system where politicians serve the public, instead of trying to acquire as much power as possible.

Snowstorms hit the Czech Republic, causing hazardous driving conditions

Tuesday's snow storms and strong winds have created dangerous conditions and caused numerous accidents on Czech roads as drivers have had to deal with black ice, slush and in places snow drifts. Police say the situation in Moravia and western Bohemia is critical and that many roads have been closed. Drivers have been warned to only use roads which have been sprinkled with grit or salt and to drive carefully.

The Russian Foreign Ministry officially asked the Czech Republic on Tuesday to suspend its border crossing legislation which came into effect on the 1st January this year. A Czech diplomat in Moscow, said that Russia wants the regulations to become valid for its citizens in March. Under the new law, people attempting to enter Czech territory need to supply proof of health insurance and two photographs as well as filling in various forms. The Russian Foreign Ministry is objecting to these laws, because it says its Embassy should have received a draft of the law two months before it came into effect and not after its approval. Moscow is now asking for at least 8 weeks in which to inform Russians of the new requirements. The Russian Foreign Ministry said that this muddle has led to certain complications for its citizens who have been unable to enter the Czechs Republic and indicated that this is having a negative effect on bilateral ties.

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

Strong north westerly winds have been predicted for Wednesday, along with scattered snow showers. Skies will remain overcast and cloudy during the day with temperatures ranging from –2 to 0, dropping overnight to –5 and –8 in the mountains.

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