News Wednesday, OCTOBER 25th, 2000

By Daniela Lazarova

Czech-Austrian SWW compensation agreement

The Czech Republic has signed an agreement with Austria on compensation for wartime victims of Nazi forced labour. The forced labour settlement was signed in Vienna on Tuesday with the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Ukraine and Belarus. Under the agreement Austria will set up a six billion schilling fund to compensate the close to 150 thousand people who are considered eligible. Around 15 thousand people are expected to receive compensation in the Czech Republic and the amount earmarked for them is just over 500 million schillings. Czech officials have expressed the hope that individual compensations will take place before the end of this year.

Czech-Austrian talks aimed at improving ties

Meanwhile, Czech and Austrian officials made use of the opportunity to try and mend the damage to bilateral relations caused by the recent launch of the Temelin nuclear power plant located just 50 km from the Austrian border. Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schussel met privately with Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan to discuss ways of diffusing tension. Mr Kavan said at a press briefing following the talks that a framework agreement had been reached on how to improve ties but that he wanted to discuss it with the Czech Prime Minister before making it public. "We'll take things step by step" he told reporters.

Czechs support Temelin

Meanwhile, support among Czechs for the launch of the controversial Temelin nuclear power plant is increasing despite vehement protests from neighbouring Austria. According to the latest poll conducted by the IVVM agency 71 % of Czechs support the Czech government's decision to put the Soviet-designed plant into operation. That is up from 63% in June. The survey showed 16% opposed to the launch and 13% undecided. The Czech and Austrian heads of government are to meet on October 31st to try to resolve their differences.

Construction work on Prague-Linz motorway to start in 2001

In what is widely seen as a positive development in Czech-Austrian relations, Czech Transport Minister Jaromir Schling and the Austrian ambassador to Prague Klaus Daublebsky have announced that the date has been set for the start of construction-work on a motorway liking Prague, Èeské Budejovice and the Austrian town of Linz. Work on the D3 motorway, which has been plagued by numerous environment-related problems, is due to start early next year.

President pardons anti-globalisation activist

President Havel has pardoned a sixteen-year-old foreign citizen charged in connection with the street violence that accompanied the recent IMF and WB meeting in Prague. The 16-year-old, who is reported to have smashed the window of a car and damaged another, is said to have apologised to the owners and paid over 7,000 crowns in damages. Another 5 people are still being detained and at least one of them, who was charged with assaulting a police officer, has appealed to the President for clemency.

In a related development, it has been announced that police president Jiri Kolar is to set up a special inspection team to investigate allegations of police brutality against demonstrators during the mentioned street riots. An inspection team of the interior ministry is conducting a parallel investigation.

Seismologists warn of coming quake

Seismologists have warned the inhabitants of the Cheb region to prepare for a possible earthquake measuring up to 4.5 on the Richter scale. Cheb is the only region in the Czech Republic where occasional minor earthquakes have been monitored. No serious damage has ever been reported although in recent weeks a series of small tremors have increased people's concern about a big quake. Seismologists say that an earthquake measuring 4.5 on the Richter scale last took place in this region in 1986, damaging a few roofs and chimneys.

Czech PM in Italy

On a working visit to Italy the Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman was received by President Carlo Czampi on Tueday. The two officials discussed the Czech Republic's ambition to join the European Union and the situation in the Balkans. Meanwhile, the Czech Prime Minister's meeting with his Italian counterpart Gulio Amato focussed primarily on the state of bilateral ties and the possibility of attracting more Italian investment to the Czech Republic. The Czech Prime Minister is said to have been assured of Italy's support in the matter of early EU expansion.

Visiting royals in Prague

The King of Belgium Albert II and Queen Paola are on a three-day state visit to the Czech Republic. On Tuesday morning the royal couple were received at Prague Castle by President Havel and his wife Dagmar and later in the day they received a symbolic key to the city from Prague's mayor Jan Kasl. Their afternoon agenda included talks with the Speakers of the Upper and Lower Houses of Parliament and on Tuesday evening the royal couple returned to Prague Castle for a state dinner held in their honour. The Belgium king's talks with Czech top officials are focussing primarily on the process of EU integration. Belgium will take up the rotating EU presidency in the middle of 2001 and the Czech Republic is in the frontrunners' group for admission.

Zitko to face charges over Mein Kamf

A Czech state attorney has said he plans to file charges against a Prague publisher responsible for printing thousands of copies of Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf. Michal Zitko is expected to be charged with disseminating Nazi propaganda , a crime punishable by up to 8 years in prison. The publisher, who sparked a storm of controversy by distributing the book last spring, has repeatedly defended his action saying people have a right to know what Hitler and the Nazi philosophy represented.

Bear need not have been killed

A group of animal rights activists have filed charges against the person responsible for the shooting of a bear which recently escaped from the Chomutov Zoo. The bear, which had been quarantined, managed to escape from its cage and came close to a large housing estate. It was surrounded and shot, with the man in charge of the police action saying he could not risk the bear attacking one of the locals. Animal rights activists say the killing was inexcusable and argue that there had been time to call a vet and have the bear put to sleep.

Radio Prague service in Russian

Listeners in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union will soon be able to tune in to Radio Prague's brand new Russian service to be launched on Sunday October 29th. Radio Prague, which is the international service of the Czech Republic's public radio network Czech Radio, dates back to 1936, and at present broadcasts news from and about this country in 5 languages – English, French, German, Spanish and of course Czech for the benefit of Czechs living abroad. According to RP director Miroslav Krupicka the decision to include a Russian service reflects a renaissance in relations between the two countries.

Finally, a look at the weather:

Wednesday should bring partly cloudy skies and day temps between 12 and 16 degs C. Scattered showers are expected in northern parts of the country.