News Wednesday, MARCH 10th, 1999

Hello and welcome to RP. Those were the main points, now the news in full, read by Alena Skodova:

TU - Falber - congress

Trade Union leader Richard Falbr does not blame the present Social Democrat cabinet for the grievous state of the Czech economy. Although the upcoming congress of the Czech-Moravian TU Confederation will voice criticism over some ministers' performances, the trade unions are not preparing any protest actions. Falbr told this to journalists after a meeting with president Vaclav Havel. According to him, it is becoming ever more difficult for his confederation to play the role of a stabilizing factor within the Czech society, as respective TU organizations have been pushing for the confederation to act in a more agressive manner. A two-day nationwide TU congress starts in Prague today.

Kosovo - field hospital

The Czech Chamber of Deputies has received a proposal from the cabinet to send a military field hospital to the troubled province of Kosovo. If the deputies of the lower house approve the proposal, some 100 Czech soldiers will take part in the Kosovo operation for a period of 18 months. The planned mission would cost more than 500 million crowns. The field hospital could be sent to the region within 60 days following the ratification of the proposal. The maximum staff is expected to be 84 doctors and nurses, including five surgery teams that could perform some 50 operations a day. The House of deputies will discuss the issue at its next session, on March 23rd.

Czech - Poland - NATO

The role played by the Czech Republic and Poland during further NATO expansion topped the agenda of talks on Tuesday between Deputy Defence Minister Otto Pick and representatives of the lower chamber of the Polish parliament - the Sejm. Polish parliamentarians and the Czech official have exchanged views on how to keep the NATO door open for other potential members after the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary have been accepted into the alliance later this week. Further NATO enlargement will most probably depend on how successful "the three new members will be in fulfilling tasks connected with our entry to the North Atlantic treaty," Czech and Polish officials agreed.

NATO - Solana

Meanwhile, at a conference in London marking the 50th anniversary of NATO, Secretary General Javier Solana expressed the hope that the three new members will cope well with all the problems linked with their membership in the Alliance. "We have accepted these countries because they are prepared to become NATO's fully fledged members," Solana told the CTK news agency, adding that their preparedness had been analysed and the analysis was "positive".

Tibet - flags

On the eve of the 50th anniversary of the Chinese occupation of Tibet, Tibetan flags were flown throughout the Czech Republic as a sign of solidarity. While last year the white, blue and red Tibetan flag with its golden rays of the Sun was flown from 60 Czech townhalls, this year their number increased to 80. The first townhall to start the tradition in this country was that of Prague's third district. The townhalls feel that freedom is most important. However, some townhalls have refused to hoist the Tibetan flag, citing trade relations with China as the main reason for their decision.

Convention - visa - refugees

The Czech Republic has joined the European convention on the abolishment of visa requirements for refugees. The convention has been signed in the French city of Strasbourg by the Czech ambassador in the Council of Europe, Jiri Mucha. The document enables refugees to enter the territories of the signatory countries without visas, and to stay there for up to three months--this does not apply, however, to people with work permits. The Convention has been signed by 18 out of 40 members of the Council of Europe and in the Czech Republic it will come into force on April 10th.

Opinion poll

The two biggest political parties - the ruling Social democrats and the opposition Civic democrats - enjoyed approximately equal voter support in February, according to the latest survey carried out by the Sofres- Factum polling agency. While the Premier Zeman's Social democrats would receive 21 percent of the vote, 21,5 percent of potential voters would prefer the Civic democrats, led by ex-premier Vaclav Klaus. As far as political figures are concerned, the most popular Czech personalities in the poll were deputy chairwoman of the Lower House, Petra Buzkova, chairman of the deputies for the Social democratic party, Stanislav Gross, and the Czech National Bank governor, Josef Tosovsky. President Vaclav Havel's popularity has been stadily decreasing, the Sofres Factum has confirmed.