News Wednesday, MARCH 24th, 1999

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

Foreign Ministry on Kosovo

After a last-ditch effort to prevent conflict over Kosovo failed, the Czech Foreign ministry issued a statement saying it considers NATO air- strikes inevitable. The Ministry's spokesman Ales Pospisil told the CTK news agency that if the alliance did not follow through and carry out the air strikes then it would lose its face and credibility. At the same time, though, Pospisil expressed the hope that Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic would come back to the negotiating table. Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, Vaclav Klaus has voiced his support for a diplomatic solution to the conflict, as he sees no hope in negotiations expected to be held after Yugoslav military targets have been bombed.

Czech embassy in Belgrade - evacuation

Foreign minister Jan Kavan has confirmed his ministry's preparedness to evacuate the remaining staff from the Czech embassy in Belgrade in the event of air strikes against Yugoslavia. Spokesman Ales Pospisil has informed that the Czech ambassador Ivan Busniak is still at the embassy and even if he is evacuated, two embassy employees will remain inside the building to guard it.

Festive gathering - NATO

A festive gathering will be held on Wednesday at Prague Castle in honour of the Czech Republic's accession to NATO earlier this month. In the Vladislav Hall cabinet members, lower house deputies and senators will hear speeches by president Vaclav Havel and Czech army Chief of staff, Jiri Sedivy. Also invited was NATO Secretary General Javier Solana, but he cancelled his visit to Prague on Sunday because of the tense situation in Yugoslavia.

House of Deputies - meeting

The House of Deputies started its March session on Tuesday. The deputies have failed to approve a motion on changing the Constitution, submitted by the Communist deputies in an effort to outline situations under which a nation-wide referendum could be held. The MPs will vote on sending an AM-26 transport plane and a military field hospital to Kosovo on Wednesday. The hospital could be sent to the region within 60 days following the ratification of the governmental motion.

Survey - parties

According to the latest survey, the number of those backing the Social democratic party and those supporting the Civic democratic party, ODS, is almost equal. Results from the STEM agency's March poll disclosed that 24 percent of those asked would vote for the ruling Social democrats and 23,6 for the opposition Civic democrats. The Communist party of Bohemia and Moravia continued to strenghen its position, finishing third with 14, 2 percent backing. If the parliamentary elections were held this month, STEM found out, the ODS together with the Christian democrats and the Freedom Union would have 109 seats in the lower house, thus being able to form a majority coalition government.

The STEM survey also revealed that the number of citizens who think the Social democrat government is working badly, is gradually growing. According to another poll, conducted by the Public Opinion Research Institute, people's trust in president Vaclav Havel remains on the same level, at 49 percent. He is favoured mostly by women, people with good living standards and supporters of the Christian democrats.

Communists - constitution

For the Communist party of Bohemia and Moravia, the idea of removing from the Czech constitution the article stating that the Czech Republic is a sovereign state is entirely unacceptable. "Every independent country is sovereign," the Communist party chairman, Miroslav Grebenicek, told the CTK news agency on Tuesday. The incumbent Social democrat government has put forward the idea of superimposing EU legislation on Czech laws - with premier Milos Zeman opining that this could help the Czech Republic become EU compatible at least a year sooner than originally planned.

According to Grebenicek, our country's Constitution does not need intervention like this, which he described as hasty and unqualified.

Private schools

Private schools in the Czech Republic have complained that they are being discriminated against, and this is one of the main topics being discussed at the 3rd congress of private schools currently in session here in Prague. Parents pay equal taxes, no matter what school their children attend, and Czech private schools intend to enjoy the same status as other education institutions, chairman of the Association of private schools of Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia, Vladimir Zelinka, told journalists on Tuesday. To achieve this goal, the Association is planning to send a petition to the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe.

Austrian ecologists - Temelin

Following the government's decision to postpone by a month the final verdict as to whether to finish the construction of the nuclear power plant in Temelin, the Austrian ecological organizations and the opposition Green party have been voicing protests against the completion of the plant. They have called for a meeting of the two countries' premiers and demanded the Austrian government tell their Czech colleagues that the plant's operation could become a stumbling block on the Czech Republic's path to the EU.

And that's the end of the news.