News Wednesday, SEPTEMBER 29th, 1999

Hello and welcome to the programme. We begin as usual with a look at the main news stories this hour:

Those were the headlines and now the news in more detail

Cabinet session to debate planned changes to the Constitution

At its Wednesday session the Cabinet is to debate planned changes to the Constitution proposed jointly by the Social and Civic Democratic Parties. Although it is not yet clear when the proposed amendments are to be put before Parliament they have already evoked considerable controversy. The proposed changes include curbing the President's powers and are fiercely opposed not only by President Havel but by Christian Democrats and Freedom Union. President Havel is to be present at today's Cabinet session and he is also scheduled to meet with Civic Democratic Party leader Vaclav Klaus to discuss the issue.

Doctors to strike in protest of low wages

Doctors' trade unions have called a one-day strike on October 6th in protest of low wages. Striking doctors are expected to protest outside the government building where the Cabinet meets for its regular Wednesday sessions. Health minister Ivan David on Tuesday confirmed that the health sector's problems would be on the agenda of today's Cabinet session , promising that a number of ailing hospitals would receive government aid by the end of November. However he made it clear that the 22 million crowns which is to be distributed among heavily indebted Czech hospitals must be used to settle their outstanding debts. We are not prepared to finance higher wages and bonuses, the minister warned. A number of Czech medical centres are on the brink of bankruptcy, a situation that has become life-threatening to patients in some areas of the country.

Four-party agreement in place

Four right of center parties have signed an agreement on close cooperation in order to combat the growing influence of the communists and help lead the Czech Republic out of its political deadlock and economic crisis. The Christian Democrats, Freedom Union, the Civic Democratic Alliance and the Democratic Union say they will cooperate at all levels, both in the run up to elections and following them in order to bring about the desired changes and help the country achieve its set goals. The parties in question have pledged not to enter into long- term political cooperation with any party outside of this alliance.

Air controllers walk out, protesting overwork

A walk out by air controllers at Prague's main airport on Tuesday resulted in delayed flights and last minute de-routing of passenger and standard cargo transit over Czech territory. A total of 13 controllers -out of 65- announced nine hours before their shift was due to start that they would not come to work in protest of work overload. Czech air controllers had threatened to strike in the summer demanding management be sanctioned for implementing an inadequate new radar system and forcing employees to work excessive hours. The alert was recalled after the company's director was dismissed. The present Air Traffic Control director Lubos Hlinovsky has not said what steps the management would now take to resolve the situation.

Gross wins confidence vote

The Social Democrat Deputy Club has passed a vote of confidence in its highly popular chairman and Lower House deputy speaker Stanislav Gross. The vote took place at Gross' own request after he admitted to having used a mobile phone provided by a private advertising agency. Gross said that since he had frequently appealed to others to tender their resignations in the wake of a political scandal, he wanted to "do the right thing himself". 55 deputies out of an overall number of 59 voted for Gross to retain his posts.


It has been confirmed that during his visit to the Czech Republic on Monday Serb opposition leader Vuk Draskovic met for private talks with the US ambassador to Prague John Shattuck. The US embassy has confirmed this though no statement was released in connection with the meeting. When newsmen in the Slovak capital Bratislava asked Vuk Draskovic whether the meeting with the US ambassador had focussed on means of ousting Milosevic and what would come after, Draskovic responded "yes, that was discussed how could we avoid these issues today?" Vuk Draskovic said earlier in Prague that he wanted Milosevic ousted in a free early election.

Swedish premier offers help

Swedish premier Goran Persson who is in the Czech Republic on a two day official visit is to be received later today by President Vaclav Havel. On Tuesday Persson met with his Czech counterpart Milos Zeman to discuss the state of bilateral relations, the possibility of boosting mutual investment and EU internal reform in preparation of the union's expansion eastward. Sweden has been an EU member since 1995 and has offered to share know-how both in terms of achieving EU membership and overcoming the present economic crisis. The Swedish premier is also scheduled to meet with members of the Czech-Swedish Chamber of Commerce and visit Prague's historic sites.


Morning fog should give way to partly cloudy skies on Wednesday and temps between 15 and 19 degs C. The warm spell seems to be well and truly over, with day temps throughout the week expected to remain below the 20 deg mark. Nighttime lows between 12 and 8 degs. C.