News Wednesday, JANUARY 24th, 2001

By: Alena Skodova

Lower house overrules Senate veto of new Czech TV law

The lower house of parliament on Tuesday overruled the Senate's amended bill on the public TV network, Czech Television, and approved its own version of the law. The new legislation is to help the lower house to temporarily take over the powers of the Czech TV supervisory board and to elect an interim director of the station. Under the new law, the Czech TV supervisory board will be elected by the lower house alone. President Vaclav Havel signed the new law on Tuesday evening, but sent a letter to the Speaker of the Lower House, Vaclav Klaus, in which he expressed his reservations.

MPs receive visas to visit Cuban prisoners

Two Czech citizens, Freedom Union MP Ivan Pilip and former student activist Jan Bubenik, currently imprisoned in Havana, could spend at least two months in custody before standing trial for alleged activities undermining Cuba's security, they were told earlier this week. The Deputy Foreign Minister, Hynek Kmonicek said on Tuesday he hoped the Cuban foreign ministry would soon confirm what is so far known only unofficially. Meanwhile, six Czech MPs, who plan to negotiate Pilip's and Bubenik's release in Havana, have received Cuban visas. But, according to Social Democrat MP Petra Buzkova, who is to head the delegation, the journey will be meaningless unless the MPs are offered an agenda of talks which will finally lead to the release of the two men.

Pilipova spoke with foreign journalists in Cuba

Meanwhile, Mr. Pilip's wife, Lucie Pilipova, met with foreign journalists in Cuba on Tuesday, whom she provided information about the case. During the meeting, she stressed that the two men were not guilty because they had not broken any law. Mrs. Pilipova pointed to the fact that she and Bubenik's brother were not in Cuba to negotiate, but to meet their relatives and express support for them. She told the journalists that she had been granted a Cuban visa to stay in Havana for two weeks, but hoped it can be extended.

President spokesman dismisses Communist allegations

The presidential spokesman, Ladislav Spacek, has dismissed allegations by the Communist Party chairman, Miroslav Grebenicek, that President Vaclav Havel had known about the two men's activities in Cuba prior to their arrest. Mr Grebenicek expressed his conviction that the two men "might have acted in violation of Cuban laws". Mr Spacek described Mr Grebenicek's accusations as nonsense and told the CTK news agency that President Havel had only learned about Pilip's and Bubenik's journey to Cuba from the media. Grebenicek has indicated that his party's MP might not travel to Cuba, if the party decides the trip is pointless.

Prague braces for flu epidemic

Hygienists say they do not know yet how the current flu epidemic will spread to the rest of the country. The epidemic started in the Usti nad Labem region after apparently arriving from Germany, and is expected to hit the capital Prague soon. But medical officials say they don't know for sure when it will arrive, as each region has different conditions for spreading of infection. An epidemic is defined as at least two thousand people out of 100,000 falling ill within a week. In some parts of the country regional officials have ordered "flu holidays" for schools and kindergartens and in some areas hospital visits have been banned.

Febiofest film festival opens in Prague

More than 460 films from 44 countries will be screened in Prague during the 8th festival of film, TV and video, Febiofest 2001. The festival opens on Wednesday evening in the Prague multiplex cinema Ster Century, with the premiere of a film by Czech director Jan Svankmajer, "Otesanek". After the festival comes to an end in Prague next week, Febiofest will travel to 19 cities and towns in the Czech Republic and in Slovakia. Its director, Fero Fenic, expects some 120 thousand film buffs to come and see the films he and his colleagues had chosen for this year's event.

And finally a look at the weather: we expect cloudy skies on Wednesday with drizzle or rain in places. Daytime highs between 2 and 6 degrees Celsius.