Those were the headlines, now the news in more detail:
The Senate has rejected a law that would prevent the supply of any equipment to help build the Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran. The law was passed in the Lower House of Parliament due to an incident where a Czech company had agreed to supply parts for the plant, which led to pressure from the West to cancel the deal. The Senate sent the law back to the Lower House with amendments, including a proposal that the Czech state provide compensation to Czech companies who signed an agreement to supply equipment prior to March 1st.
President Vaclav Havel, who is currently in hospital with bronchitis, signed the state budget for the year 2000 on Thursday. This brings an end to the provisional budget, which has been in place since January 1st. The budget was approved by the Lower House of Parliament in its third and final version on March 1st, and will have a deficit of thirty five billion Czech Crowns, or one billion dollars.
Interior Minister Vaclav Grulich is going to resign at the end of the month, according to Deputy Interior Minister Yvonne Streckova. Prime Minister Milos Zeman announced last week that four ministers will leave his cabinet as part of a cabinet reshuffle, including Vaclav Grulich. Mr. Grulich has announced that he has decided whether to resign or wait to be removed from his post. The Interior Minister will apparently officially announce his resignation on March 31st. He is apparently disgusted with the way the prime minister is handling the affair, as prior to his announcement last week, the prime minister said that Mr. Grulich would remain in his post.
On a related note, opposition leader Vaclav Klaus has attacked what he calls the slow pace of the cabinet reshuffle. In an interview with the radio station Frekvence 1, Mr. Klaus said it must be nerve-wracking for the ministers involved to hear second hand via the media that they are to be removed from their posts. Mr. Klaus stated that if he were one of the ministers involved in the cabinet reshuffle, he would not wait for Prime Minister Milos Zeman to remove him, but would leave the government immediately, and he found it surprising that none of the ministers involved had done this.
The opposition centre-right Christian Democrats have called on the government to condemn Russia's military campaign in Chechnya. The party's foreign policy commission says it wants the government to find a way to condemn the excessive force the Russian government is using to resolve the conflict. The Christian Democrats point to the fact that Russian officials continue to deny humanitarian and monitoring agencies access to the region, and thereby prevent the Russian people and the international community from obtaining a true picture of the extent of the humanitarian crisis in Chechnya.
Prime Minister Milos Zeman has held a meeting with Petr Moos, a possible replacement for Transport Minister Antonin Peltram as part of a large cabinet reshuffle. Mr. Moos told journalists after the meeting that the prime minister had asked him whether he would accept the post if he was offered it. Mr. Moos has already held the post of Transport Minister, during the interim Tosovksy government following the collapse of the centre-right coalition at the end of 1997. The prime minister has promised to replace Antonin Peltram as the Transport Minister within one month.
The Czech Republic's largest steel producer, Nova Hut, claims that it cannot survive without state help. The company's spokeswoman Sylva Mazurkova informed journalists on Thursday that Nova Hut is no longer able pay its suppliers, which it owes around six billion Czech Crowns, or roughly one hundred and eighty million dollars. As a result, the company cannot operate at full capacity. Nova Hut's problems increased this week when the leaders of the company's trade union put their members on strike alert, calling for financial aid from the state to help the company pay its bills. The company's management say they want to receiving financing from the state to increase production, as without this, the company will apparently go under.
President Vaclav Havel met with the future Minister without Portfolio Karel Brezina in hospital on Thursday. Mr. Brezina is due to replace the outgoing minister Jaroslav Basta next week. The president and Mr. Brezina discussed what tasks await the future minister, and the president apparently wanted to find out how Mr. Brezina, who at the age of twenty seven will become the youngest member of the Czech cabinet, will combine this post with his role as the director of the government's office. Mr. Brezina will have fewer responsibilities than his predecessor, as he will not be in charge of the secret services, or the Clean Hands campaign, which was set up in 1998 to fight economic crime.
The weather over the weekend should continue cold, with overcast skies and scattered rain, sleet or snow showers. Temperatures during the day should range between two and six degrees centigrade. Temperatures during the night should be around zero degrees centigrade. I'm Nick Carey, and that's the end of the news.
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