News Wednesday, MARCH 08th, 2000

Hello and welcome to the programme. I'm Jana Kotalik. We begin as usual with a brief news bulletin. First, the headlines:

Those were the headlines. Now the news in full:

Strike planned for noon on Wednesday

Several hundred Czech farmers blocked traffic on Prague's Wenceslav Square on Wednesday morning as part of a planned warning strike of the country's second largest association of trade unions. Demonstrators from the agricultural trade union stopped traffic on the street for a half hour with bundles of straw and piles of potatoes. Other trade unions in the Czech Association of Independent Trade Unions are striking later in the day. The standout is expected to cause fifteen-minute delays in passenger train connections. The Association of some 250, 000 members is protesting against unpaid wages, growing unemployment and a fear of planned reforms of social and pension policy. The association also blames the larger Czech Chamber of Trade Unions, led by senator Richard Falbr, for failing to ameliorate social conditions for union workers. But Falbr has labelled the strike 'irresponsible foolishness.' Minister of Labour and Social Affairs Vladimir Spidla has said that the strike is legitimate but will not meet its ends.

Lower house votes on export ban to Iran

The Lower House of Czech Parliament is holding an emergency vote on Wednesday afternoon expected to pass a law banning exports for the Bushehr power nuclear plant in Iran. The Czech Republic has been under international pressure - notably from the United States and Great Britain - to block the deal between a local company ZVVZ Milevsko planning to sell ventilation parts for use in the plant's construction. The government took financial measures on Tuesday to aid the company which is to lose 500 billion Crowns in the failed contract. US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on an official visit to the Czech Republic expressed appreciation earlier this week for the Czech government's commitment to block the deal.

Unemployment rate dropped slightly in January

The Czech Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs reported on Wednesday that the country's unemployment rate dropped to 9.7 % in February, down from January's figure of 9.8 %. Meanwhile, the Czech Statistical Office reported that year-on-year inflation in February grew to 3.7 %, up from 3.4 % in January.

Austria's Green Party launches campaign against Temelin

Austria's green party has launched legal proceedings against the construction of the Czech nuclear power plant Temelin. Green party representatives said on Tuesday in Vienna that Austrians have the right to protest the construction of what they called a dangerous nuclear plant. The green party environmental spokeswoman expressed her hope that the campaign would delay and increase costs for the construction of the plant, whose first unit is scheduled to be fired up this August. Plans for the Czech power plant located 50 km from the German and Austrian borders have been followed closely by Austrian environmentalists.

New plaque opened on Charles Bridge

New plaques explaining a controversial text on a statue of Christ on the cross on Prague's Charles Bridge will be unveiled on Wednesday afternoon. The new plaques - written in Czech, English and Hebrew - will explain the circumstances surrounding the text inscribed above the cross in the 17th century by a Jewish man as punishment for defaming the cross. The inscription in gold of the words 'holy, holy, holy' in Hebrew is considered offensive for the Jewish community. The explanatory plaques will be unveiled by city officials in the presence of local leaders of the Christian and Jewish communities as well as prominent Rabbis from the United States. Prague mayor Jan Kasl has said that the plaques should help encourage American Jewish investors who previously avoided walking across Charles Bridge, the city's most famous monument, to come to Prague.

Charges laid on two Czech youth for throwing eggs at Albright

Two 22 year old Czech men have been charged with a breaching public peace, for having thrown raw eggs at US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright earlier this week in the Czech city of Brno. According to police, the youth belong to an anarchist movement and wanted to express their opposition to what they called American imperialism. They now face up to two years in prison. Albright made light of the incident and said it did not spoil her visit. The US Secretary of State left the Czech Republic for Bosnia on Wednesday morning.

Czechs to participate in European Rapid Reaction Force

The Czech Republic will be ready to participate in the future EU rapid reaction force at its very inception in 2003, according to the Czech foreign ministry. The director of the foreign ministry's EU relations department Petr Jezek told journalists after a meeting of top European military officials in Brussels on Tuesday that the Czech Republic would contribute a concrete number of troops in accordance to its size. Jezek also said that integration into the EU's military structures would be facilitated if the Czech Republic concluded negotiations and joined the Union in 2003. EU leaders agreed at a summit in December to set up an independent rapid reaction force of about 60,000 troops, largely in reaction to Europe's dependence on the US armed forces during the Kosovo crisis last year.

Statue of first Czechoslovak president unveiled at Prague castle

A statue of the founder and first president of Czechoslovakia was unveiled by President Vaclav Havel at Prague castle on Tuesday. The official ceremony was held in celebration of the 150th anniversary of Masaryk's birth, and was attended by Madeleine Albright. The Prague-born US Secretary of State emphasised the great Czechoslovak statesman's fight for democracy and individual rights, and expressed her pride in the fact that the American and Czech nations were co-operating in upholding the same rights today. 'It's really wonderful to work with President Havel, who really reminds the world of Masaryk,' she said. President Havel recalled that the communists tried to erase Masaryk from the nation's collective memory. 'I firmly believe that this statue of T.G.Masaryk in Prague will never be torn down,' the Czech president said.

Resignation in Health Ministry

The highest civil servant in the Czech Ministry of Health Jiri Vytlacil is to resign, Health Minister Bohumil Fiser announced on Tuesday. Both the health minister, and Vytlacil declined to outline reasons for the resignation, but the press has speculated that Vytlacil was not successful in preparation of legislation on public health. The decision to remove the top health official lies with the cabinet. The Health Ministry has seen upheavals in recent months, with the resignation of Minister Ivan David and appointment of minister Fiser in February.

Transport Minister will not go immediately

Prime Minister Zeman told his transport minister Antonin Peltram that he will not be replaced in the near future, said a ministry spokeswoman on Tuesday. Peltram is one of four ministers widely speculated to be dismissed by the Prime Minister as part of a major cabinet reshuffle. Zeman held talks with four of his ministers on Monday evening, but the details of the cabinet changes are to be officially announced only this Friday.


And we end as usual with a brief weather forecast. For Thursday, we expect partly cloudy skies with a chance of rain. Temperatures will remain mild, ranging from plus eight to plus twelve degrees Celsius, dropping to plus three overnight.

I'm Jana Kotalik and that's the end of the news.