News Wednesday, OCTOBER 11th, 2000

By Daniela Lazarova

Schussel accuses Prague of blocking dialogue

Amid heightened tension over the activation of the Temelin nuclear power plant, Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schussel has accused Prague of intentionally blocking dialogue with Vienna in the face of its growing security concerns. The Chancellor said that for over eight months Prague had ignored calls for dialogue on Temelin. "There were no top-level contacts since the Czech Republic joined the EU sanctions against Austria and even when they were lifted the Czech Government Office made no move to arrange a meeting" Mr. Schussel said. "The Czech Republic may not share our views on nuclear power but declining to talk to a neighbour is no way to behave in present day Europe", the Austrian official admonished. He added that the Slovak government had been a great deal more forthcoming in negotiating the problem of the country's two nuclear power stations.

Temelin's activation has likewise drawn negative comment from the German government which said it regretted that the plant had been activated at a time when a number of security issues remained unresolved.

Anti-nuclear activists say border blockades will continue

Austrian anti-nuclear activists who have been blocking three key border crossings with the Czech Republic in protest at the launch of the Temelin nuclear power plant say they will extend the blockade to 4 other crossings in the next few hours . Sleeping in tents, with cars parked across the road, they have pledged to "carry on all week" in the hope of getting the activation order reversed. The Czech Prime Minister's offer to meet both Chancellor Schussel and Austrian anti-nuclear activists on condition that the blockades are called off has met with a guarded response. The activists have merely promised to discontinue the blockade when the meeting takes place and make fresh plans depending on the outcome. The Austrian Chancellor himself said a meeting with Mr. Zeman should happen with "no conditions attached".

Czech authorities maintain Temelin is safe

Meanwhile, the Czech authorities maintain that there is no cause for concern since Temelin meets strict international nuclear safety norms. The Prime Minister has rejected Austrian attempts to link the Temelin issue with the Czech Republic's future EU membership as "entirely unsuitable", while the Czech Foreign Ministry has urged leading Austrian representatives to make the borders of their country passable in line with international border agreements. Asked how the Foreign Ministry would respond to the continued blockades, Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan said Prague would give Vienna time to act. "We will not take this matter to the EU unless the border situation becomes untenable," Mr Kavan said. He did not specify how long Prague would be prepared to wait before taking action, but reports from the border indicate that emotions are running high between the protesters and the long cues of irate truck drivers who have been parked on the border for days.

A raid on the Cedok travel bureau in Paris

A group of 15 masked men are reported to have raided the Czech Republic's Cedok travel bureau in Paris. According to the bureau's director the raid took less than a minute but the men left the place in ruins, having used clubs to smash computers, printers and any other equipment in sight. The damage is estimated at around 100, 000 French francs. The bureau's employees were not hurt. A note left behind contains a vaguely worded demand for the release of certain prisoners.

The CTK news agency notes that this may be the work of anti-globalization activists who this weekend gathered outside the Czech embassy in Paris to protest against police brutality during the street riots which accompanied the IMF and WB session in Prague. They demanded the release of those activists who have charged in connection with the street vandalism calling them "political prisoners". However the spokesperson of the group which organized the protests outside the Czech embassy in Paris has rejected any connection with this incident.

Air-force chief suspends flight training in wake of accident

The commander-in-chief of the Czech Air Force has suspended all flight training in the wake of another fatal accident. Two MIG-21 fighter jets crashed during a training flight near the village of Bilek, southeast of Prague, on Tuesday, killing both pilots. The cause of the accident is being investigated. A base spokesman said the victims were among the army's most experienced pilots and had served in a team assigned to a NATO alert system. This was the third fatal air crash involving Czech army aircraft this year. The Czech government is currently considering a purchase of new fighter jets to upgrade its airforce. According to current plants the fleet of MIG 21s should be phased out the year 2005.

Czech President visits Turkey

Czech President Vaclav Havel and his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Necdet Sezer have signed agreements regarding customs procedures, the environment and quarantine laws. In a short statement to reporters the two heads of state said they had discussed predominantly means of revitalizing bilateral trade and their respective countries' bids to join the EU. International issues were also on the agenda.

The Czech President, who is on a three day official visit to Turkey, is scheduled to receive an honorary doctorate from Ankara's Bilkent University, before leaving the capital to visit some of Turkey's tourist sites, including Istanbul and Ephesus.

PM visits Britain

Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman is paying an official visit to Great Britain on Wednesday. His talks with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair are expected to focus on bilateral relations, EU integration and recent developments in Yugoslavia. The Czech head of Cabinet has welcomed the British Prime Minister's call for early EU expansion.

Finally, a look at the weather:

Although Wednesday should be another overcast and rainy day in many parts of the country, meteorologists are promising a "gradual improvement" into the second half of the week. Wednesday's temp are forecast at between 12 and 16 degs C., Thursday's one to two degrees higher and if all goes well the weekend highs should reach 20 degs C.