News Wednesday, MARCH 15th, 2000

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You are tuned to Radio Prague. Those were the headlines, now let's take a look at the news in full:

Zeman calls on Havel for Basta's dismissal

Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman on Tuesday wrote a letter to President Vaclav Havel asking him to officially dismiss current Minister without portfolio Jaroslav Basta. In his letter, Zeman proposed 28 year old Karel Brezina who has been in charge of the office, as a suitable replacement. A Presidential Spokesman confirmed the news late on Tuesday afternoon. He added that Havel agrees with Brezina's appointment. The swearing in of the new minister will take place on a date which still has to be agreed on by the President's office and the government.

Havel hospitalized

Czech President Vaclav Havel was taken to hospital on Tuesday after his chronic bronchitis worsened. Although his doctors said his condition is not critical, he did have a slight temperature. His spokesman said although the President is feeling better, doctors on Tuesday began a course of antibiotics. The 63 year old former dissident playwright cancelled official engagements for the rest of the week. Doctors say he is likely to stay in hospital for the next ten days. Havel has been in a critical condition on three occasions, had two operations on a ruptured intestine and been hospitalized more than 10 times during the last five years. President Vaclav Havel who led the so-called Velvet Revolution in 1989, has battled life threatening illnesses in recent years.

Czech Republic celebrates first year of NATO membership

The Czech National security Council met on Tuesday to review the country's first year of NATO membership. Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman and his opposition counterpart, leader of the Civic Democrats Vaclav Klaus, said there was reason to celebrate at the end of the first year. They stressed that membership of NATO was a joint political success. Zeman said the Czech republic could be proud that it had served loyally, while maintaining and voicing it's own opinions and visions within the alliance's democratic system. During the meeting it was also announced that the government will decided upon the purchase of fighter planes for the Czech air force. Czech Defence Minister Vladimir Vetchy later said that the cabinet would settle the issue in mid-April.

Top politicians comment on Police units

Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman and Vaclav Klaus, leader of the main opposition Civic democrat party spoke out on Tuesday on the growing dispute over special units of the police force. Zeman said it was in the interests of all political parties that the squads fighting economic crime and corruption function effectively.

This is in reaction to President Havel's decision on Monday, to ask the head of the country's intelligence service to investigate the two squads due to his suspicions that they are under attack from various forces seeking to destabilize their activities. Vaclav Klaus said he was surprised by the President's move. He added that it was very important that the situation in the police force did not become a political issue.

This comes amid a growing dispute between Prime Minister Milos Zeman and President Havel over the quality of work being carried out at two police units - the economic crime fighting squad and the anti-corruption squad. While Havel has praised the activities of the two units Zeman has called their work "ineffective".

Senator Michal Zantovsky added to the dispute on Tuesday saying that he and several other senators have already pointed out that there are problems within the police force. He refused to comment on statements made by Vaclav Havel who believes there are special forces working at discrediting the two squads. There has been speculation that political elements would prefer to see the activities of the squads stopped since political parties and their finances are often the target of investigations.

EC approves transport corridor in central Europe

On Tuesday, the European commission in Brussels approved the construction of a transport system linking Poland to the Czech and Slovak republics. As part of the European Union memorandum, the Commission approved plans to build a pan-European corridor which would connect the Czech Republic and Slovakia to Polish ports on the Baltic. Observers say this improvement to the infrastructure of central Europe will boost trade and protect the environment.

CNB official says fiscal policies need improvement for EU inegration

Czech banker Ludek Niedermayer announced on Tuesday that the trickiest areas for the Czech Republic on the road to European Union integration are fiscal policies and the financing of the pension system. Niedermayer, who was taking part in a conference on European Integration in Prague, spoke about the issue of prices in the Czech Republic reaching the same level as European Union member states. He said this was a secondary problem which would be resolved once labour productivity and the Gross Domestic Product increased.

Finally, on a happier note, a charity auction held by Radio Prague's external service on Tuesday in the National Museum, raised over 50 000 Czech Crowns (just under 1000 GBP).

The proceeds from paintings submitted by children under the titles of "The place where I am at home" and "Drawing with Hajaja" (a popular figure from a radio programme for children) will go to a Home for Children in Otrokovice.

A total of 50 800 Crowns was raised from the sale of approximately 100 pictures. The highest bidding price for one picture reached 3 100 Czech Crowns! The money was handed over to Ilja Hradecky, Director of the Charity Organization NADEJE (Hope) which owns the Home for Children. In 1997, the Children's Home, which is in Moravia, was damaged by catastrophic flooding. Last year a similar auction raised over 35 000 Czech crowns for the Otrokovice Home.

The weather: It's set to get cooler over the next few days with cold winds from the north sweeping over the Czech Republic. Skies will be cloudy and overcast on Wednesday with more rain and snow in the mountains. Daytime temperatures will range from 2 to 6 degrees Celsius, dropping overnight to minus 2.

I'm Pauline Newman and that's the end of the news.