News Wednesday, NOVEMBER 24th, 1999

Hello and a very warm welcome to the programme. I'm Dita Asiedu, first we start with a look at the main headlines of the day:

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

Maticni wall removed

The Usti nad Labem town authorities decided on Tuesday evening to pull down the controversial Maticni street wall. The wall in the northern Czech town has been the focus of much negative domestic and international attention abroad, with accusations of racism, since it separated Czech homeowners from their Romany neighbours. Work began on pulling down the wall in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

The town council decided to use money offered to them by the state to buy the houses from the Czechs who wish to live elsewhere. Czech President Vaclav Havel has welcomed the move, saying he repeatedly called for the removal of the wall. Some of the money being provided by the government will go on various social programmes. Havel's spokesman said this was the President's solution from the very beginning.

A government negotiator, who has been instrumental in brokering the deal, said the wall is to be taken down in the interests of the Czech Republic. This comes as the European Union has called several times for the removal of the wall, saying it could threaten the Czech Republic's bid for membership of the Union. Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan said earlier in the month, that the wall must go by December's Helsinki summit of the European Union.

Svoboda arrested

Former Czech Finance minister Ivo Svoboda was arrested on Tuesday afternoon. A police spokesman confirmed that both Svoboda and his former advisor Barbora Snopkova have been taken into custody in connection with fraud charges made earlier this year. Svoboda was dismissed by Czech Premier Milos Zeman in July, after being charged with criminal misconduct at a bankrupt pram company he had co-managed. Svoboda and his advisor have been charged with illegally transferring 6.5 million crowns ($184,000) of the company's money to their own firms. Svoboda has denied the charges. A court must now decide whether to hold the former finance minister and his advisor or release them pending trial.

EU talks to begin March 2000

The European Union's Commissioner for enlargement said on Tuesday he expected the bloc to formally open membership talks with six new countries before the end of march 2000. The 15 nation bloc's leaders are expected to decide at a summit in Helsinki next month to invite six new countries, including the Czech Republic to join membership talks. EU membership is one of the Prague's top foreign policy goals.

Czech protest against conflict in Chechnya

The Czech Parliament sent the Russian State Duma a letter on Tuesday, warning of an "exaggerated use of force" in the conflict in Chechnya. The letter, written by the Prague Parliament's foreign affairs committee, also called for negotiations between Russia and legitimate members of the Chechen administration. Vasili Pospelov, an official from the lower house of the state Duma, said that Moscow would issue a reply over the next few days. He added that the head of the Duma's Foreign Affairs committee has not yet read the letter, since he is in Moscow on business. In reaction to the Czech call for negotiations, Pospelov said it is not clear at the moment, with whom Russia should negotiate, adding that there is no point in holding talks on Chechnya's status. In their letter, Czech MP's also expressed fears that the fighting could lead to violations of human rights, at the same time creating an area of political and economic instability in the region.

This is the latest in a series of exchanges between Moscow and Prague. On Friday, Moscow protested against a visit made to the Czech Republic earlier in the month by Chechen Foreign Minister Ilyas Achmadov. In response the Czech Foreign Ministry On Monday, handed the Russian Ambassador a letter protesting that the Chechnya campaign is no longer an internal Russian affair, since many civilians are as a result undergoing much suffering. Pospelov said on Tuesday that the conflict in Chechnya is an internal affair of the Russian federation and that Moscow's position on the issue has not changed. Last week, the Kremlin expressed outrage at the wave of international condemnation over the violent way Russia is handling the situation.

Lux's funeral next week

The funeral of Josef Lux, former head of the Christian democrats will be held next week. As soon as his widow returns from America, a more precise date will be set. A spokesman for the Christian democrat party, said Lux's family will decide how big the funeral will be . Josef Lux, died on Monday morning of pneumonia after a bone marrow transplant in Seattle, America. He had leukaemia. People have been signing a book of condolences on Tuesday in Prague and at eight other towns in the Czech Republic.

Mertlik promoting investment in CR

Czech Finance Minister Pavel Mertlik called on Tuesday for increased foreign investment in the Czech Republic, saying the country's economy was gradually coming out of recession. Speaking in London at a conference called Czech Investment 99, Mertlik told businessmen and leading economists, that only through foreign investment, can the Czech Republic actively become a part of global economies. He added that the political situation in the Czech Republic was stable and that the current Social democrat government will survive. As far as political tension in Prague is concerned, the Czech finance Minister said that while it reflects badly on the country, fortunately it does not overly affect the economy, as current investors know. Although several bankers and economists who were present spoke of grey areas in Czech banking legislation, an official from the British Department of Trade and Industry said the London Government would start a campaign early next year promoting investment in the Czech Republic.

EU seen positively by most Czechs

An independent research agency released information on Tuesday, indicating that three quarters of Czechs expect European Union membership to have a positive outcome. This includes an overall economic upturn as well as a place for the Czech Republic, among the developed countries of Europe. Some people were not so positive. They told researchers that consumer prices and taxes will increase. The most striking feature of the survey was that many people said EU membership would bring a chance for people to improve their education and standard of living. Two thirds of those asked, said they would take part in a referendum on membership, 83% said they would support the move.

Communist plans

The Communist party of Bohemia and Moravia says it would like to regulate the media and in the interests of democracy, scrap the process of screening civil servants over their past. The party made the announcement on Tuesday, saying these are some of the points it will discuss during its December congress. The party also wants to look at getting rid of the Senate, which is the upper house of the Czech Parliament and changing the way Presidential elections are held. A communist spokesman said that these are the main points on the agenda which the party feels many Czechs are sure to support.

This comes as an agency on Tuesday, revealed the outcome of its investigations into the likelihood of the Communist party winning the next general elections. The results indicate that although the communists lead in the public opinion polls, they would not win an election, since their supporters are mostly disappointed Social democrat voters, who when pushed, would be unlikely to support a communist comeback. Experts say the main opposition Civic democratic party would almost without a doubt come first, if elections were held now.

And we end as usual with a brief look at the weather:

Wednesday's temperatures will be higher than in recent days, ranging from -1 to 3 degrees Celsius. There will be some fog in the morning, with the possibility of snow or sleet as the day continues. Temperatures will drop considerably over night, to as low as -5.