News Wednesday, JUNE 21st, 2000

Those were the headlines and now the news in more detail:

Refugees want action

A group of ten refugees from Russia, Moldavia and Uzbekistan, who have gone on hunger strike to protest against the lengthy asylum process in the Czech Republic and conditions in Czech refugee camps are now negotiating with the Czech branch of the Helsinki Committee. The refugees, who claim that the Czech authorities had turned a deaf ear to their problems, spent Monday night outside the Cuban embassy hoping for asylum. When their request was rejected on Tuesday morning they took the matter to the Czech branch of the Helsinki Committee. At their request, no information about the talks has been made available to the press. All ten of them are determined not to return to the refugee camp near Teplice , North Bohemia, saying they fear for their lives.

President backs sale of IPB

President Havel has supported the government's decision to sell the ailing IPB bank to CSOB. He said after a meeting with the Prime Minister that he was convinced the government had taken the right course of action under the circumstances and expressed the hope that the bank's swift sale and the guarantees provided by the government and the Central Bank would help to stabilize the situation and reassure both clients and shareholders. While changes are being made at top managerial posts , reports from the IPB bank's numerous outlets across the country suggest that the panic is over and business at bank- counters has returned to normal. According to a statement issued earlier an audit is under way to establish the IPB's net price. Until it is concluded the two banks will continue to function separately.

Meanwhile, in a related development speculation has emerged as to whether the sale of IPB might not interfere with an investments-protection agreement between the Czech Republic and the Netherlands. The Dutch company Saluka Investments has a stake in the bank and according to Czech banking experts who did not wish to be named they are now in a position to file an official complaint.

Electoral law faces problems in the Senate

Prime Minister Milos Zeman on Tuesday made a fresh attempt to convince senators from his party to vote in favour of a planned amendment to the electoral law. The amendment, proposed by the governing Social Democrats and their opposition allies of the Civic Democratic Party, is intended to strengthen the position of the stronger parties on the Czech political scene and weed out those who are incapable of achieving the 5% support margin required to obtain seats in Parliament. The Social and Civic Democrats have pledged to push this amendment through and a failure to do so would seriously threaten their power sharing pact. Despite the Prime Minister's lobbying efforts his party's senators remain divided over the issue, and the fate of the proposed bill hangs in the balance.

Environment minister to join anti-globalization activists

Environment Minister Milos Kuzvart has announced he intends to take part in the counter-summit organized by anti-globalization activists in protest of the IMF and World Bank summit to be held here in Prague in September. The Environment Minister said that while he was opposed to violence there was nothing wrong with peaceful demonstrations and debates. An estimated 20.000 anti-globalization activists from around the world are expected to descend on the Czech capital in September and the City Council and Interior Ministry are bracing for the event.

Smoking kills 60 Czechs each day

Every day sixty people in the Czech Republic die of smoking-related diseases. That's some twenty two thousand people a year –and the number includes passive smokers. At a press briefing in Prague on Tuesday medical experts pointed out that not enough was being done in terms of prevention. A new law currently being drafted jointly addresses the issue of protection against the ill- effects of tobacco, alcohol and drugs but doctors say it does not consider passive smokers. Moreover, they point out that prevention and cure in the three cases differ to such an extent that they merit separate legislation.

And finally, a look at the weather:

Although the past two days have been warm enough for most of us, temperatures should rise even higher over the next 48 hours. They've been forecast at between 30 and 34 degs C. Clear skies and dry weather across most of the Czech Republic –though there's a possibility of late afternoon thunder storms.