News Wednesday, JULY 21st, 1999

Hello and welcome to Radio Prague. I'm Vladimir Tax and here's the news. First the headlines.

These are the main points and now the news in more detail.

Finance Minister removed from office

Finance Minister Ivo Svoboda was removed from his position on Tuesday by President Vaclav Havel on the request of Prime Minister Milos Zeman. The new Finance Minister, who assumes his role today, is deputy premier Pavel Mertlik. Prime Minister Milos Zeman stated that this is the only change that will be made to his cabinet at this point. The move followed charges filed against Svoboda by police last week. He has been charged with causing damage to creditors and faces up to eight years in prison if convicted. He was charged in connection with his alleged role in the late 1997 bankruptcy of Liberta, a producer of baby carriages and bicycles.

Opposition: one change - no change

The opposition sees the change of finance minister as insufficient and insist that the government's activities are detrimental to the state. The three right-wing opposition parties - the Civic Democrats, the Christian Democrats and the Freedom Union - claim that there are ministers whose performance has been worse than Svoboda's and should therefore be replaced as well.

Mertlik sees 30bn budget deficit

The newly appointed finance minister Pavel Mertlik said that the state budget next year should have a deficit not lower than 30 billion crowns - almost the same as this years projected budget deficit. Minister Mertlik said that the deficit should reflect changes in the macroeconomic situation, meaning that it should not grow much in real terms.

1/3 of Czechs see improvement

Only one third of Czechs see an improvement of the economic situation or no change compared to the situation a year ago, according to the latest opinion poll conducted by the Centre for Empirical Research. The image of the Czech economy in the eyes of its citizens has worsened since last July, when forty percent of those asked were optimistic about the economic situation. This negative view of the economy and distrust of the cabinet and its economic policies are reflected by general scepticism about the future development - 40 percent of Czechs are convinced that it will take more than ten years for the Czech Republic to reach a satisfactory standard of living.

Govt to discuss uranium mining

At its session on today the Czech cabinet is to discuss the future of uranium mining in the Czech Republic. The government is to decide whether the process of closing down the mines should be prolonged by four years as demanded by mining unions. Uranium miners demonstrated outside the government seat in Prague on Monday, calling for continuation of mining. They have support from the industry and trade ministry. On the other hand, economists and environmentalists claim that the Czech Republic can buy uranium for a much lower price on the world market and that the mining activities are seriously damage the environment.

Havel's holiday on ice

President Havel has left for a holiday. Right after removing finance minister Ivo Svoboda and appointing Pavel Mertlik as his successor, President Havel with his wife left for a two-week holiday in Iceland. Upon his arrival, Havel met with his Icelandic counterpart Olafur Ragnar Grimsson and prime minister David Oddsson.

Czech weather report

And finally, the weather forecast. We are expecting a mostly cloudy day with scattered showers and thunderstorms, afternoon highs should not exceed 30 degrees Celsius. Thursday and Friday should also be rather cloudy with showers, but a little colder, with highest daytime temperatures between 20 and 25 degrees Celsius.

And that's the end of the news.