News Wednesday, MARCH 31st, 1999

Those were the headlines and now the news in more detail :

Humanitarian aid to Kosovo

The Czech foreign ministry is sending two million crowns in humanitarian aid to Kosovo and over three hundred thousand crowns to Macedonia which has signalled it badly needs help with the thousands of Albanian refugees streaming into the country. The humanitarian aid for Kosovo will be distributed under the supervision of the Red Cross and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

No political motive in Prague shooting

The police has ruled out a political motive in Monday's shooting of a Kosovo Albanian in Prague. The thirty-nine year old man was shot in the chest at close range at a demonstration for human rights in Kosovo and died within minutes of the attack. The assailant, likewise a Kosovo Albanian, was arrested as he tried to flee into a side street. Police say that questioning revealed a family feud to have been behind the attack. Emotions ran high at the demonstration and police were forced to break up fights between Kosovo Albanians and Serb supporters who had also turned up.

The organizers of Monday's demonstration , the Helsinki Citizens Assembly and the People in Need Foundation, are as yet unsure as to whether to go ahead with another demonstration initially scheduled for next Tuesday. Simon Panek of the People in Need Foundation said that in his view Monday's tragic incident should not be allowed to detract from the significance of public protests against human rights' abuse.

Health concerns over tuberculosis

Czech health authorities are preparing measures to prevent the spread of tuberculosis in connection with the influx of Kosovo refugees, including inoculation of high risk groups. There is a high incidence of tuberculosis among refugees from the East , with 68 cases reported last year. Although refugee camps provide medical care, including ex- rays and tuberculosis tests the majority of illegal refugees try to avoid these camps since they are using the Czech Republic as a transit state. The Czech Republic has said it is prepared to take in several hundred Kosovo refugees, and the state has given people financial motivation to provide homes for Kosovo families over the next ten years. According to a UN report one quarter of the people of Kosovo are now refugees, that's over 500,000 people.

Tank deal to go ahead

The Czech defense ministry has said that the planned sale of outdated T 54 and T 55 tanks to Georgia is going ahead. Defense ministry spokesman Milan Repka told journalists he was not aware that the deal was jeopardized by alleged warnings from several Western intelligence services that the tanks could be re-sold to Afghanistan. "This is the first I hear of it" Repka told newsmen, confirming that the first phase of the transaction was to be made shortly. The Czech army is selling 120 of its outdated Soviet- made tanks, under an agreement that a third of the price would be covered by a barter-trade deal in which the army would receive spare parts for its fighter jets.

Support for nuclear power drops

Public support for nuclear energy development has dropped by 21% over the last five years. At present it has the support of 47% Czechs. The STEM agency for public opinion research says that the problems connected with the Temelin nuclear power plant have played a key role in this downturn. While in 1994 only 34% Czechs were against nuclear energy and the completion of Temelin, that number has now risen to 53%.

Inflation forecast

The Czech National Bank has published its prediction of the inflation rate for this year. The Central Bank's forecast puts the year-on-year consumer price index between 4 and 5.8 percent at the close of this year, net inflation between 2.7 and 5.2 percent and average inflation between 2.7 and 3.6 percent. The forecast is based on an exchange rate of 19 crowns 50 per Deutsch mark. It also expects stronger inflationary pressures in the second half of this year with the main factor being a weakening of the Czech currency which has already taken place. This could start affecting the inflation rate with a three- month delay. Another factor pushing consumer prices up will be the development of prices on world markets. The third element is the development of wages, with real wages expected to rise this year.

GDP - forecast

The Czech National Bank has also published a prediction of the Gross Domestic Product for this year. The Central Bank's forecast ranges from a 1.5 percent decline to a 1 percent GDP growth and an unemployment rate around 10 percent. It expects positive development in the second half of this year.

Finally a look at the weather : Wednesday should be a fairly warm and mild day with morning patches of fog giving way to partly cloudy skies and day temps between 12 and 16 degs C.