News Wednesday, JUNE 14th, 2000

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CZECH-KOSOVO-ENVOY

The United Nations mission in Kosovo on Tuesday clarified a comment made by UN top envoy Bernard Kouchner, saying his words should not have been taken as a criticism of Czech President Vaclav Havel. Kouchner himself has sent a letter of apology to President Havel.

Kouchner on Sunday bitterly denounced another senior UN official, former Czechoslovak Foreign Minister Jiri Dienstbier. He said that Mr. Dienstbier, now a UN human rights investigator for former Yugoslavia, had spent only two days in Kosovo earlier this year before saying that Kouchner's handling of the province was hindering, not aiding, reconciliation.

Clearly infuriated, Mr. Kouchner said in English that Mr. Dienstbier should 'shut up' and said he would no longer speak to him. He was later misquoted as saying he would not meet Mr. Havel, either, when in fact what he meant to say was that now Mr Havel wouldn't speak to Mr Dienstbier either. Mr. Kouchner has since tried to tone down his criticisms of Mr. Dienstbier.

A UN spokesman said Kouchner himself had no intention of criticising President Havel, who he described as an old friend.

CZECH-CANADA-VISAS

Canada's Ambassador to Prague Ronald Halpin says he has no signals the Czech Republic intends to re-impose the visa requirement on Canadians in the near future. No Czech Foreign Ministry source was available for comment on Tuesday.

The ambassador was speaking at a seminar on a Romany assistance project sponsored by the Canadian embassy.

The Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan said earlier this spring that Prague was considering to take reciprocal steps after Canada indicated it had no immediate plans for lifting its visa requirement imposed in 1997.

Canada renewed the visa requirement for Czechs three years ago, in the wake of a massive wave of Roma exodus from the Czech Republic.

CZECH-EU-ENLARGEMENT

The European Union has told the Czech Republic and five other candidate countries that they should not count on the bloc setting a target date for ending its expansion talks when EU leaders meet in December.

The EU's enlargement commissioner Guenter Verheugen told a news conference at the start of a new round of negotiations with 12 hopefuls in Luxembourg that it would be premature to mull setting a target date before he assesses the candidates' progress in early November.

Meanwhile, the Czech Republic and five other front-running countries vying for European Union membership are under pressure in Brussels as the 15-nation bloc opens talks on one of the most contentious EU chapters of all -- agriculture.

Agriculture is the final major issue the EU has to resolve with the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovenia, Cyprus and Estonia, which started membership talks more than two years ago.

The EU spends nearly half its total annual budget on agricultural subsidies. EU officials have voiced concern that it will be an enormous challenge to add the candidate countries without breaking the EU bank.

CZECH-BANK-RUN

The Czech government and the central bank said on Tuesday they expected the owners of the troubled IPB Bank to take whatever steps were necessary to reassure its clients and to stabilise the bank, whose shares have been rapidly losing value amid uncertainty as to the bank's future.

A Finance Ministry spokesman said that if these steps did not prove sufficient, the government and the Czech National Bank would take swift action to ensure the IPB's stability. He stressed, however, that the bank's customers had nothing to fear.

The IPB, which is partly owned by the Japanese investment bank Nomura, was told to disclose by the end of June whether it has enough funds to cover its huge losses.

Many IPB customers have withdrawn their savings this week, amid fears that the bank might be placed under forced administration.

CZECH-HAVEL-US-RADAR

Civic Democrat member of parliament Jiri Payne has proposed to President Havel that the State Security Council offer the United States a site for its new anti-missile radar system on Czech territory. Mr Payne said the radar would be part of an anti- missile defence system some NATO states are in the process of building.

Mr. Payne wrote in a letter to the president that the Czech Republic and the rest of Central Europe could easily be targeted by medium-range missiles from several Middle East countries, including Iran and Iraq.

The U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty broadcasts to both countries from its headquarters in Prague and some observers fear terrorist attacks on the Czech capital.

CZECH-FIREMEN-INJURY

Two firemen from Brno suffered severe burns on Monday during a fire-fighting exercise in the village of Mrsklesy near Olomouc.

The police said the incident occurred during an exercise to test advanced fire-fighting techniques. Both men, wearing specially developed protective clothing, reportedly suffered burns after their sweat reached boiling temperature.

CZECH-WEATHER

And we end as usual with a quick look at the weather.

After a wet night, Wednesday's skies will be cloudy here in the Czech Republic and we expect scattered showers and thunderstorms. Daytime highs between 23 and 27 degrees Celsius, dropping to between 14 and 17 degrees in the night.

Thursday will be a wet day with maximum temperatures between 21 and 25 Celsius.

Friday will be much colder, with daytime highs only between 13 and 17 degrees.

I'm Libor Kubik and that's the end of the news.