News Wednesday, SEPTEMBER 20th, 2000

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By Kazi Stastna

From Monday September 18th Radio Prague's broadcasts in English on the f101.1 FM frequency in Prague will change. Instead of our current times of 7.15am, 1.15pm and 5.30pm, we will broadcast a fifteen-minute programme at 9.45am, and our half-hour programme will move to the later time of 9.30 in the evening. You will also be able to hear our broadcasts not only in Prague but also on the BBC's FM frequencies in other Czech towns and cities.

EU member states give positive assessment of Czech accession preparations

Ministers of the EU Council on accession have positively assessed the progress of the Czech Republic's accession preparations. The assessment came after the annual meeting of ministers from the 15 EU member countries and the Czech Foreign Minister, Jan Kavan, and less than two months prior to the release of the European Commission's annual progress report, which the Council indicated would be positive. In its joint communiqué, the Council stressed that the Czech Republic had made progress in adopting accession criteria but identified problem areas in need of reform, such as the state administration, the justice system and the fight against corruption. The ministers also urged the Czech Republic to continue supplying information about safety at the Temelin nuclear plant to EU authorities and the country's concerned neighbours, Germany and Austria, but stressed that the issue would not block the Czech Republic's negotiations.

Lower house postpones debate of draft on fuel tax cuts

The chamber of deputies has postponed a debate on the lowering of fuel tax. Three versions of an amendment to the law on consumer tax were proposed by members from the opposition Civic Democrats, the Freedom Union and the Communist party, suggesting a reduction of petrol and diesel oil prices of some ten per cent. Prime Minister, Milos Zeman, who met with lorry drivers on Monday this week, has rejected the proposed price cuts and warned that they would most certainly prevent the passing of the 2001 budget. The country's largest union of lorry drivers, Cesmad, is set to meet later in the week and submit a proposal for a solution to the crisis to the government.

Austrian foreign minister asks atomic energy agency to step in on Temelin

The Austrian foreign minister, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, has called on the International Atomic Energy Agency to aid in ensuring high safety standards at the Czech nuclear power plant Temelin. Ms Ferrero-Waldner made the appeal at the 44th meeting of the body in Vienna, claiming such standards were not yet in place. The chairwoman of the Czech atomic energy office, who was also in attendance, reacted by stating that domestic and international tests have confirmed a high level of safety at the plant and that the Czech Republic respects the concerns of its neighbours.

Senators to submit ombudsman nominations to lower house

Senators are expected to submit their nominations for the Czech Republic's first ombudsman by the end of the month. The Senate's nominations along with those of the President will be voted on by the Lower House, which failed to agree on a candidate for the post in two rounds of voting earlier this year.

Jaroslav Basta assumes post as new ambassador to Russia

Jaroslav Basta , the former minister without portfolio in charge of the government's Clean Hands anti-corruption drive, has assumed his post as the new Czech ambassador to Russia. The ambassador's office had been empty for seven months after former ambassador Lubos Dobrovsky resigned following a disagreement with Foreign Ministry representatives.

Senators split on Temelin public hearing

Senators are split in their support of calls made earlier in the week by Austrian opponents of the Temelin plant for a public hearing in the lower house on the issue of safety at the plant. The opponents made the appeal for the hearing and for a postponement of the launch to President Vaclav Havel, the Czech government and both houses of parliament. Senators from the ruling Social Democratic Party have rejected such an initiative, while some representatives from the Coalition of Four parties have voiced their support.

Czech unions criticise IMF, World Bank stance on privatisation

The Association Trade Unions of Bohemia and Moravia called on the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to adhere to international labour norms and co-operate with unions, labour ministries and civic initiatives on carrying out a responsible social policy. Union representatives also criticised both institutions' stance on Czech privatisation, which, they say, the organisations first readily supported but later criticised. According to union leader Richard Falbr, the Czech union association will not take part in the street protests that are expected to surround the meetings of the two financial organisations next week in Prague.

Employees of Romanian company Tepro want Czechs out

Employees at the Romanian pipe rolling-mill Tepro have called on the Romanian National Property Fund to cancel a contract signed with the Czech company Zelezarny Veseli. Union leaders accuse the Czech company, which bought a majority stake in Tepro from the Romanian government in 1998, of involvement in the recent murder of union leader Virgil Sahleanu. Although Romanian police have already questioned and released the two Czech representatives of Zelezarny Veslei, the two men have been prohibited from leaving Romania until the conclusion of investigations into the case.

Appeal trial begins in Sweden in case of trafficking of Czech, Slovak women

Appeal proceedings are set to begin at the Swedish Supreme Court in Stockholm in a high-profile case involving the trafficking of Czech and Slovak women. The largest Swedish case of trafficking in foreign women was uncovered last October after a seventeen-year-old Czech victim of the organised trafficking ring managed to flee her captives, in fall of the previous year, and contact her mother. One woman and three men, originally from the Balkan region, are charged in the case and received prison sentences of three to five years earlier this year.

Weather

And finally a look at Thursday's weather forecast. Skies are expected to be overcast, with scattered showers in some regions. Daytime temperatures will reach highs of 17 degrees Celsius, with evening lows dropping to lows of eight degrees.