Social Democrat Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan on Thursday apologised to his predecessor Josef Zieleniec for accusing him of misusing state funds to bribe journalists.
In his initial reaction, ex-minister Zieleniec said he was seeking an apology also from Prime Minister Milos Zeman.
Kavan said in Prague the six-month-old accusation could not be proved as no evidence against Zieleniec had been gathered. He said no alleged contracts between Zieleniec and journalists bribed into helping improve the ex-minister's public image had been discovered in the Foreign Ministry files.
But he said an inspection revealed wasteful use of state funds and irregularities in the ministry's handling of media-related project during Zieleniec's tenure.
Minister Kavan's party colleague Petra Buzkova praised his apology to Zieleniec but said the same should be demanded from Prime Minister Milos Zeman, who was the first to publicly accuse Kavan six months ago.
Most opposition leaders share Buzkova's views and maintain that Kavan's apology did not go far enough.
The ruling Social Democrats and their opposition partners, the right-of-centre Civic Democratic Party, are expected to meet later in the day to discuss the future of their 18-month-old power- sharing pact and this country's government budget.
The Social Democrats called for reconciliation talks last month after the Civic Democrats' leader Vaclav Klaus warned their one-party government of its incompetence.
Our correspondent says the Civic Democrats will press for a government reshuffle and changes in the so-called "opposition agreement". They are also expected to state under what conditions they would be prepared to vote in favour of the Social Democratic budget.
The opposition centre-right Christian Democrats are convinced the senior opposition Civic Democratic Party and the ruling Social Democrats are heading towards an even more binding pact than that which has enabled the forming of a minority government.
The Social Democrats and their contract partners Civic Democrats are due to meet on Friday, possibly to discuss a cabinet reshuffle.
Almost half the Czechs would welcome a change of government.
According to a poll just out, 10 percent of those questioned would prefer an interim caretaker government to the incumbent Social Democratic administration. Most of those polled would favour a government reshuffle.
Foreign Minister Jan Kavan says the Czech Republic aims to rejoin the top EU candidates this year with its sights still set on membership in the year 2003.
In an interview with Reuters Television, he said he thought his country could change its image in time for a June EU summit in Lisbon, and could still meet the 2003 goal.
The European Commission strongly implied in an October report that Prague had fallen behind other leading contenders such as Hungary and Estonia in getting its legislation and reforms in line for membership.
Meanwhile, Lower House Speaker Vaclav Klaus has assured the European Commission's envoy Ramiro Cibrian on Thursday that the Czech parliament will pass dozens of crucial EU laws by mid- 2000.
He said by then the European Union would be in a position to announce which countries it would accept as its new members.
Klaus told Envoy Cibrian that in his view, the Central Bank and its restrictive monetary policy were the root cause of the bad economic situation of the Czech Republic.
The Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Thursday praised Monday's elections in Croatia as free and fair.
The ministry spokesman said the election victory of the opposition Left Centre Bloc was a logical outcome of the internal political situation and reflected a legitimate decision to enter the next millennium with new political leaders pledging allegiance to democratic European values.
Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan and the Southeast European Cooperation Initiative's coordinator Erhard Busek have discussed in Prague the Czech Republic's role in implementing the region's Stability Pact in the field of democratisation, economic renewal and human rights.
The organisation, formed in 1996 on U.S. initiative, comprises 12 states ranging from Albania to Turkey. The Czech Republic has an observer status.
Police in the town of Jihlava west of Brno seized 10 million crowns' worth of forged banknotes from a 33-year-old man who was detained on Thursday.
The police described the man as the ringleader of a gang specialising in forging 5,000-crown bills.
He was remanded in custody and our correspondent says he could face up to 15 years in jail if convicted.
Football -- and Sparta Prague have signed Czech international midfielder Pavel Hapal from Spanish second division side Tenerife.
Sparta's General Manager Miroslav Pelta said on Thursday that his club would pay Hapal over 240,000 U.S. dollars for a 30-month contract.
Hapal capped 31 times, helped the Czech side qualify for Euro 96 but he broke his leg just before the finals and sat out the campaign.
And we and as usual with a brief weather report.
After a clear night we are facing a slightly overcast Friday with scattered sleet and snow showers and daytime highs between zero and three Celsius above freezing.
At the weekend, we are expecting foggy mornings with occasional snow showers, nighttime lows between two and six degrees below zero, daytime highs minus 2 to plus 2 Celsius.
I am Libor Kubik and thats the end of the news.
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