News Wednesday, JANUARY 31st, 2001

By: Rob Cameron

Pithart due to begin to talks with Cuban officials

The chairman of the upper house of the Czech parliament, Petr Pithart, held talks with a Cuban parliament delegation on Tuesday, in a bid to discuss the release of two Czechs detained on subversion charges. Mr Pithart, leader of the Senate, described the talks as tough but open, and stressed that negotiations were at the beginning. It remains unclear, however, when Mr Pithart will meet the Cuban leader Fidel Castro, who issued a personal invitation for him to visit the island. Mr Pithart's visit is the first high-level contact between the two countries since the arrest on January 12 of the Czech MP Ivan Pilip and the former student leader Jan Bubenik. The two were arrested in the town of Ciego de Avila after meeting Cuban opposition leaders. Mr Pithart visited the two men at their state security prison in Havana.

Former IPB managers face fraud charges

A number of former high-ranking managers of the IPB bank, including the bank's former deputy director Libor Prochazka, have been charged with largescale fraud. Eight former managers were charged with defrauding the bank of an estimated 30 million dollars in the late 1990s. The fraud allegedly involved a transaction of blue-chip shares in the Czech Republic's largest brewery, Plzensky Prazdroj. IPB was taken over by the CSOB bank last summer after the Czech National Bank imposed forced administration in order to save it from bankruptcy. Mr Prochazka already faces separate fraud charges filed by CSOB over alleged financial irregularities during his time as IPB's deputy director.

Police request international arrest warrant for Algerian murder suspect

Police have requested an international arrest warrant for an Algerian man suspected of murdering a 24-year-old woman in Prague earlier this month. Investigator Josef Mares said they now believe the man, travelling under false names, flew to the Irish capital Dublin on January 7th, hours after stabbing a Czech professional dancer to death in her flat in Prague 2. Police say they found evidence at the scene of the crime linking the man to the murder. They did not give any further details.

Svoboda pledges to lead Four-Party Coalition to election victory

The new leader of the opposition Four-Party Coalition, Cyril Svoboda, has pledged to lead the alliance of four right-of-centre opposition parties to victory at the next parliamentary elections in 2002. Mr Svoboda told a press conference on Tuesday that he would do everything in his power to lead the alliance into government. He also chose the opportunity to resign as deputy leader of the Christian Democrats, as agreed at a meeting of the alliance on Sunday. The Four-Party Coalition has emerged as a front-runner in several recent opinion polls, amid apparent dissatisfaction with the way the ruling Social Democrats and the main opposition Civic Democrats have divided up power between them. Under the country's proportional electoral system, however, the Four-Party Coalition will probably not be able to form a government without entering a coalition with one of the two parties.

Czech rescue team leaves for India

A team of Czech rescue workers is on its way to the Indian state of Gujerat, to join the international relief operation in the aftermath of Friday's massive earthquake. The team of four emergency rescue dog-handlers was due to arrive in Vienna on Tuesday, where it will join an operation co-ordinated by the International Rescue Dogs Organisation. The Czech Foreign Ministry has said it will provide around 50,000 dollars' worth of humanitarian aid to India. The Czech Catholic Charity has already sent more than 5,000 dollars' worth of aid. At least 20,000 people were killed on Friday when the western state of Gujerat was hit by what some are calling India's worst earthquake disaster in 50 years.

Town hall orders clean-up of defaced Soviet statue

The authorities in the northern town of Decin have ordered the statue of a Soviet tank commander to be cleaned, after unknown perpetrators daubed it in red paint in early January. A firm hired to clean the statue said almost all the paint had now been removed, and the bust would be finished by Wednesday. The town hall bought the statue of Marshall Pavel Semyonovich Rybalko, who helped liberate Czechoslovakia in 1945, from a local factory last year. Historians say Marshall Rybalko's role in the 1945 liberation is indisputable, but point out that immediately afterwards he ordered the summary execution of two hundred Russians who fought for the German army. Town councillors recently rejected a proposal by right-wing colleagues to move the statue to a local museum.

Weather forecast

And finally, the weather forecast. We're expecting the band of cold air from the north-west to continue moving across the country on Wednesday evening, bringing with it night-time lows of minus six degrees Celsius. Thursday will be cloudy with more snow throughout the country, and daytime temperatures will reach a maximum of one degrees Celsius.