News Wednesday, MAY 10th, 2000

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These are the main points and now the news in more detail.

Havel receives award, continues visit to Germany

Czech President Vaclav Havel continues his four-day visit to Germany. On Tuesday, he was honoured with the Civic Award. The award is bestowed by the Civic Award Foundation from Bad Harzburg on personalities who have made an exceptional contribution to the development of civic rights, European unification and strengthening of peace on the continent. Havel continues his visit with key talks with senior German officials today.

Inflation decreased in April

Czech inflation in April fell by 0.4 percent year-on-year to 3.4 percent. On the month-on-month basis, the Consumer Price Index decreased by 0.1 percent after stagnating in March. According to the Czech Statistical Office, the decrease in April was caused by lower prices of food, tobacco and beverages, and also due to slightly lower prices in the categories of travel and leisure. The weakening of the Czech crown had no effect upon inflation.

Unemployment down again

The Czech unemployment rate decreased again in April. It fell from 9.5 percent in March to 9 percent. This is the latest in a series of decreases over the past few months. It can be attributed to economic recovery and an increased number of seasonal jobs in agriculture and construction.

IMF about the Czech Republic

In its latest study on the Czech Republic, the International Monetary Fund predicts GDP growth between 1.5 - 2 percent this year. There are signs of economic recovery but an unfinished restructuring of the banking and industrial sector work against GDP growth, the IMF points out. The IMF also called on the Czech government to reform the state budget structure to improve medium-term fiscal outlook. Monetary policy should concentrate on securing stability. The IMF has urged the Czech Parliament to respect internationally recognised rules when making changes to the status and independence of the Czech National Bank. An IMF representative said that the Central Bank's independence was crucial for maintaining good economic performance.

Public awareness about EU insufficient, improving

The level of awareness about the EU among the Czech public is still insufficient, but is gradually improving, according to Foreign Minister Jan Kavan. Kavan made his statement after a trip around Prague in a historic tram, during which he and Deputy Foreign Minister Pavel Telicka and European Commission Delegation head Ramiro Cibrian answered questions from people about European integration. Kavan said that as soon as the Czech Republic and the European Union agree on an accession date, the Czech Republic will hold a referendum on the issue. Until then, minister Kavan wants to provide the public with as much information as possible.

Havel shopuld resign - 53 % of Czech say

A recent opinion poll conducted by the Sofres-Factum agency showed that more than a half of respondents agree that president Havel should step down instead of serving until his final term in office expires in early 2003. Those who think that Havel should resign are divided into two groups - some believe that he should do it because of his poor health, others think he should quit "in any case". Havel commented on the poll saying it was moving that so many people were concerned about his health, but also that he understood that the public had had enough of him after 10 years in office.

Crown taken down by zloty

Czech crown has weakened on Tuesday as a result ofa fall in value of the Polish zloty.The zloty started weakening last week due to an unfavourable current account balance. This development made foreign investors vacate their positions in other East and Central European countries.

Czechs pay tribute to fallen Russian soldiers

Prague citizens have paid tribute to Russian soldiers who died during the liberation of Prague in 1945. The ceremony took place at the Prague Olsany cemetery on Tuesday. Russian ambassador Nikolaj Rjabov laid a wreath at the memorial on behalf of Russian president Vladimir Putin. Other wreaths were laid on behalf of Belorussian, Kazach and Ukrainian officials. Some two hundred people brought red carnations, lilacs and roses to the war memorial. More than 140 thousand soviet soldiers died during World War II on Czechoslovak territory, 500 of them during the liberation of Prague.

Interior minister meets French ambassador

Czech interior minister Stanislav Gross has met with French ambassador to Prague, Philippe Coste, to discuss security issues connected with the IMF/World Bank session which is to take place in September in Prague. A spokesman for the Interior Ministry said that many French guests are expected to arrive for the annual meeting and the ambassador wondered whether the Czech police were sufficiently prepared. During the IMF/World Bank meeting, Czech police will be using a new radio communication system provided by French company MATRA.

Opposition calls for budget expenditure cuts

Opposition right-of-centre parties are calling for the government to limit mandatory budget expenditures and cut taxes. Former finance minister Ivan Pilip and the current shadow finance minister, Vlastimil Tlusty, agree that it is necessary to lift the tax burden and cut state spending. The Minister of Finance, Pavel Mertlik, on the other hand, considers the tax level as acceptable and sees no room for cuts. However, his predecessor Ivan Pilip claims that the Czech Republic cannot afford such a high level of re-distribution and such a costly social welfare system. The taxes and social insurance combined amount to almost 40 percent of an annual salary. In Pilip's opinion, the level should be around 30 percent.

FBI head to visit Prague

Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation Louis Freeh arrives in Prague this week. He is to meet with Czech government representatives for talks on organised crime and terrorism. Freeh's visit to the Czech Republic is reportedly also connected with the IMF/World Bank session which is to take place in September in Prague. The FBI plans to open an office in the Czech Republic within a year to train and cooperate with Czech police. However, it will not be allowed to take any action there.

Czech safari founder Vagner dies

Josef Vagner, the founder of a Czech safari park at Dvur Kralove nad Labem Zoo, died aged 72 after a long illness, the CTK news agency reported. Vagner ran the zoo from the mid-1960s to the early 1980s. Originally a forester, Vagner made several expeditions to Africa and became a world-recognised expert in tropical zoology. In the 1970s Vagner founded a safari park in Dvur Kralove nad Labem, having brought almost 2000 animals from Africa.

Czech weather report

And finally, the weather forecast. We are expecting a partially cloudy to cloudy day with scattered showers, afternoon highs should range from 23 to 27 degrees Celsius. And a brief outlook for Thursday and Friday: it should be mostly clear or partially cloudy, with highest daytime temperatures between 23 and 27 degrees Celsius.

And that's the end of the news.