News Wednesday, JULY 19th, 2000

By Rob Cameron/David Vaughan

Slovakia seeks Czech help in tracking down missing intelligence chief

Slovakia has asked the Czech Republic for help in tracking down the former head of the Slovak intelligence services, Ivan Lexa, who is reported to have fled the country. Mr Lexa headed the Slovak Intelligence Service under the populist-nationalist government of Vladimir Meciar. He is wanted in connection with a number of criminal offences, including involvement in the kidnapping of the son of the former President, Michal Kovac, one of Mr Meciar's chief political rivals. Slovak police have been searching for Mr Lexa for the last two weeks, and believe he may have fled the country to avoid prosecution. The Czech branch of Interpol has now joined the search.

KFOR troops

Part of a Czech KFOR battalion is leaving for Kosovo today, starting the process of relieving the Czech unit serving in the troubled province. Two further groups will be joining them before the end of this month. In May the government decided to keep Czech troops in Kosovo and Bosnia at least until the end of this year, and a decision will be made on their continued participation at the end of October.

Minister in Bucharest

The Czech Defence Minister, Vladimir Vetchy, has promised Romania full support in its attempts to join NATO. During a visit to the country he said that the Czech Republic continues to embrace an "open door" policy, and he offered to share Czech know-how and experience gained from joining the Alliance. Mr Vetchy added that Prague is also interested in cooperation in the armaments industry.

Police investigate suspected firebomb attack on Svitavy hotel

Police are investigating an explosion at a hotel in the eastern town of Svitavy, in what they believe is the third in a series of bomb attacks in a dispute over ownership of the hotel. Police said the explosion occurred at 1.30 in the morning, causing extensive damage but no injuries. They said the attacks were probably the work of one person. The hotel is currently under forced administaion.

Czech/Peruvian scientists confirm Amazon longest river in world

A joint Czech-Peruvian expedition has confirmed that the Amazon is the longest river in the world, ending years of dispute on the subject. Scientists from Lima's San Carlos University and Prague's Charles University announced after months of research in South America that the remotest source of the Amazon river was a stream in the Peruvian region of Arequipa. Quoted by Russia's Itar-Tass news agency, they said the Amazon was 7,062 kilometres in length, 500 kilometres longer than its nearest rival, the Nile. Their findings now have to be confirmed by satellite.

Gregr: public 'insufficiently informed' for referendum on Temelin

The Trade and Industry Minister Miroslav Gregr has expressed his opposition to the idea of holding a referendum on the recently-completed Temelin nuclear power station in South Bohemia. Mr Gregr said the general public lacked sufficient information to decide whether the plant should be put into operation. The minister said a referendum would have to be preceded by a huge public information campaign. Mr Gregr said he agreed with the opposition leader Vaclav Klaus in hoping that Temelin would be started up as soon as possible. Opponents of the plant have gathered more than one hundred thousand signatures calling for a referendum on Temelin, which is now nearing operational readiness following the loading of fuel rods into the first reactor.

Freedom Party: Czech EU membership 'impossible' with Benes decrees

Austria's far-right Freedom Party has described the Czech Republic's admission to the European Union as 'impossible', until it scraps post-war decrees which sanctioned the expulsion of two and half million ethnic Germans, known as Sudeten Germans. The decrees, signed by President Benes in 1945, remain part of the Czech legal order. The Freedom Party, which entered government with the conservative Peoples' Party earlier this year, called for the Austrian government's commissioner for EU enlargement to make public talks held last week with officials in Prague. Eastwards expansion of the European Union must be unanimously approved by all fifteen EU members states, including Austria.

Klaus to attend International Romany Union congress

The International Romany Union has said the speaker of the lower house of parliament, Vaclav Klaus, will attend the organisation's congress which takes place in Prague next week. The main points on the agenda will be plight of the Roma community in the Serb province of Kosovo, compensation for property confiscated in the Holocaust, and migration of Roma from Central and Eastern Europe.

Culture Minister sacks head of Czech Philharmonic

The Minister of Culture has sacked the General Director of the Czech Philharmonic, following disagreements with the orchestra and its chief conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy. General Director Jiri Kovar, who was appointed in 1995, said he was satisfied with his work in the orchestra and would be reapplying for the post.


And finally a quick look at the weather. This afternoon it will be a little warmer than in recent days with temperatures up to 20 degrees Celsius. On Thursday and Friday it will continue cloudy with showers, although temperature will gradually rise.