News Wednesday, MARCH 18th, 1998

Radio Prague E-News Date: March 18, 1998 Written/read by: Libor Kubik

These are the top Czech stories at this hour, now the news in more detail, read by Libor Kubik.


The newly founded Czech party, the right-of-centre Freedom Union, on Tuesday asked the main opposition Social Democrats to explain its alleged contacts with a Western group of investors and admit political responsibility should these allegations prove well founded.

According to Czech Public Television, the Social Democrats made a deal in 1995 with Czech businessmen in Switzerland which would enable them to influence Czech politics in exchange for financing the Social Democrats. The television said the party's leader Milos Zeman had dismissed the news as pure speculation, but his fellow party member, deputy Karel Machovec, confirmed it as correct, and Social Democrat MPs have been demanding an explanation.


European Union ministers on Tuesday agreed to suspend preferential import tariffs on pork, poultry and fruit juice from the Czech Republic in a row over Czech restrictions on EU apples.

The EU said in Brussels the measures were a response to a decision by Czech authorities to impose an import quota of 24,000 tonnes a year on EU apples starting this year. Apple imports in excess of that amount would attract a 95 percent duty.

The EU Commission described the Czech measures as unwarranted, given that the difficulties on the Czech Republic's home market are due to the lack of competitiveness of domestic production.

Here in Prague, Czech Agriculture Minister Josef Lux said the EU's move was unjustified and in violation of agreements. But he said his country was not considering further retaliation, nor did it plan to scrap the quota.


Wrapping up a three-day visit to the Czech Republic on Tuesday, Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis assured Czech President Vaclav Havel that Greece would do everything possible to help the government in Prague in its bid to join the European Union.

But in his talks with Havel, Mr Simitis also warned that the Czech Republic still had a few problems to work out before it could meet EU standards.

Earlier, economic leaders from both countries agreed to step up economic cooperation. A spokesman said Greek businesses could offer help to small and medium-sized Czech firms.

Czech exports to Greece in 1997 totalled just over 85 million dollars. Greek exports totalled less than 50 million dollars.


Czech popular support for NATO membership is growing, with 63 percent saying they would vote for their country to join the alliance.

A survey by the private STEM agency, released on Tuesday, says 56 percent of those polled in March believed the Czech Republic should try hard to join NATO, down from 59 percent in February but up from 46 percent in April last year.

If a referendum were called, 63 percent of those who said they would vote would support membership.


More employees of the Bruntal hospital in North Moravia threatened on Tuesday to join their chief, who has been on a hunger strike for the sixth day running to protest the planned closure of the regional hospital.

Chief physician Alois Matusu went on a hunger strike last week when the health ministry said the hospital would be closed as uneconomical and recommended that health insurance companies abrogate their contracts with Bruntal. There have been countless petitions in the region in an effort to save the hospital, which takes patients from 17 local communities.

Czech Medical Guild Chairman Bohuslav Svoboda on Tuesday described Matusu's hungry protest as inadequate.


Czech Premier Josef Tosovsky still leads national popularity polls, according to a survey just out. The Prague-based STEM polling agency said on Tuesday Tosovsky, a former banker, has the support of 83 percent of those questioned in March.

Trailing Tosovsky are two popular Social Democrats -- House Deputy Speaker Petra Buzkova and Parliamentary Party Leader Stanislav Gross. Fourth place and 65 percent approval ratings went to Justice Minister Vlasta Parkanova.


Radio Prague has a new director. He is Mr Miroslav Krupicka, a former presenter of the Czech section of the BBC World Service in London.

Mr Krupicka, who assumes his duties on April 1, was selected in a public tender from about 20 applicants for the job.

The outgoing director, Mr Dusan Palka, leaves Radio Prague at his own request. He told CTK on Tuesday he now believes that this station will continue to broadcast after June 30 in all its five languages. Previously, the Czech foreign ministry planned to discontinue Radio Prague's French and Spanish services and curtail its German programmes.


A quick look at the weather -- and we are in for another wet and cold night with early morning lows from one to five degrees Celsius. Wednesday will also be rather wet but daytime temperatures will be a balmier seven to 11 degrees.

An outlook for Thursday and Friday -- a cold front will advance from northeast and into Central Europe, bringing scatted rain and snow showers, nighttime lows below zero, and daytime highs a meagre plus three Celsius.

And that's the end of the news.