These are the main points and now the news in more detail.
One of the Czech Republic's main strategic and political goals - NATO membership - is comming true ten years after the 1989 anti-communist revolution. The Czech Republic, together with Poland and Hungary, are joining NATO at a ceremonial event in Independence, Missouri, later today. The ceremony takes place in the Harry Truman Library, named after the U.S. president who lived in the town of Independence and largely contributed to the establishment of NATO in 1949. Foreign ministers of the three countries will hand over ratification protocols to U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, as the U.S. is a depositor of the Washington Treaty, by which NATO was established.
NATO Secretary General Javier Solana sees the admission of these three countries as a definite end to the division of Europe. By accepting these three new members, NATO has indicated that it is open for all democratic countries of Central and Eastern Europe that are able to accept the responsibilities stemming from membership. Solana said he believed the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary will become loyal and active allies. He also noted that full integration of the new members' armies will require more time and money. Even so, he expressed hope that they would do their best to make this process as short as possible.
Two thirds of Czech citizens welcome their country's accession to NATO, 25 percent of them are opposed to it. According to the latest opinion poll conducted by the Sofres-Factum agency, 66.9 percent of those asked agree with the Czech Republic's admission to the North Atlantic Alliance, 22.6 percent are against. The number of supporters has been growing slowly but steadily over the past several months. Last November, support for NATO membership among Czechs was only around 50 percent.
President Vaclav Havel has called for legislative changes which would allow the cabinet to decide on Czech troops' participation in NATO missions, with both parliamentary houses approving the measure afterwards. This way, the process of sending troops abroad on NATO missions would be much quicker and more flexible, Havel said. Under the current legislation, parliament must approve deployment of Czech military units beforehand which takes a considerable amount of time. On Wednesday, the upper house of the Czech parliament, the Senate approved the dispatch of a Czech field hospital to Kosovo and the Chamber of Deputies is yet to confirm the decision.
The commercial branch of the Czech state mint is issueing a series of gold coins on February 12 in commemoration of the Czech Republic's admission to NATO. Lucie Kuzelova of the company's sales department told CTK that the coins will be issued in a limited edition of 500. The first 100 of them are numbered from 1 to 100, have already been sold. She added that some of them had been ordered by state institutions and ministries. Each coin is made of pure gold and costs 6,500 crowns. The coins are available only at the mint or at its official outlet in the town of Jablonec, Northern Bohemia.
The Czech government will decide on the fate of the controversial nuclear power plant in Temelin, South Bohemia, by the end of March. Premier Milos Zeman said the cabinet will then proptly inform the public about the decision and the main arguments. According to a study worked out by an international expert commission, the completion of Temelin is connected with high risks so that halting the construction appears to be the best alternative. Completion of the plant would be economical only if it went according to the schedule and if the plant's capacity was fully used. But construction has been delayed several times and the study claims that the Czech Republic will not need any new sources of electricity until the year 2010.
Czech premier Milos Zeman met with his Italian counterpart, Massim D'Alema to discuss Italy's support for the Czech Repoublic's effort to join the EU, investment opportunities in the Czech Republic for Italian companies, and the two countries' mutual cooperation in fighting corruption and organized crime. Zeman told reporters after the meeting that the justice ministers of the two countries would sign an agreement on mutual support in fighting economic and organized crime.
Executive director of the US Chamber of Commerce in the Czech Republic, Weston Stacey, considers the Czech government's decision on the bank privatisation schedule as an important milestone for livening up the Czech economy. If this privatisation is done quickly and successfully, it will significantly accelerate economic growth, Stacey told reporters on Thursday. In his opinion, bank privatisation will also create conditions for small and medium-size businesses to play an active role in revitalizing industry. Stacey is convinced that the government should opt for strong partners with significant experience on world markets, who would present a well-formulated strategy to bring Czech banks up to an international level.
The negative stance of the Christian Democrats on same-sex registered partnership does not stem form their bias against homosexuals, according to party leader Jan Kasal. He explained that the Christian Democrats' long-term goal was to strengthen the role of the family. On Wednesday, the government approved a draft law on same-sex registered partnership which has been prepared by MPs from all political parties except the Christian Democrats. If passed by parliament, the new law would grant same-sex couples rights similar to those of married couples concerning property, heritage, taxes and the social sphere.
Environment minister Milos Kuzvart has cancelled the TVX Bohemia company's licence for gold prospecting in Kasperske Hory, South Bohemia. Kuzvart said that this was the final decision. It can be revoked only by the Supreme Court. The environment ministry argues that the mining company violated the law several times while it was prospecting for gold near the Sumava National Park, and did not respect the rights of land owners.
Czech police have arrested one of the leading figures in the Kosovo-Albanian drug mafia, Princ Dobroshi. The police announced on Thursday that a rapid deployment unit arrested Dobroshi outside the Prague Hilton hotel at the end of February. According to Czech and Norwegian police officials, Dobroshi headed the strongest Kosovo-Albanian illegal organisation that administered the so-called northern branch of the Balkan way, which was used to smuggle drugs via the Czech Republic to Scandinavia. The arrest of Dobroshi was the result of operation "Cage", which involved two years of cooperation between Czech, Danish, Swedish and Norwegian police.
The average monthly wage in the Czech Republic increased by over 9 percent in 1998. The Czech Statistical Office announced that at the end of last year, the average monthly wage was just over 13 thousand crowns, which is about 350 euros. Consumer prices last year grew by almost 11 percent. The real wage thus decreased by 1.3 percent.
Tennis - Petr Korda has been invited to play in next month's Czech Open tournament despite being banned by the Czech Tennis Federation from playing in or for his home country. The federation banned Korda last month pending further investigation of his positive dope test for steroids at last year's Wimbledon championships. Federation general director Karel Papousek said the ban did not apply to the Czech Open as the tournament was organised by the ATP men's tour.
And finally, let's take a brief look at the weather. We are expecting a mostly clear day, afternoon highs should range from 6 to 10 degrees Celsius. At the weekend we should also see mostly clear skies, with highest daytime temperatures between 8 and 12 degrees Celsius, in western parts of the country as much as 14 degrees.
And that's the end of the news.
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