And now the news in more detail.
The Macedonian President Kiro Gligorov has arrived in Prague for a one-day state visit, for talks focusing on problems following the war in Kosovo. The Czech Republic and Macedonia are also seeking ways of reviving trade, which has declined significantly between the two countries over the last two years as a result of instability in the Balkans. President Gligorov will be returning home a day earlier than originally planned, as US President Bill Clinton will be in Macedonia on Tuesday. The Czech Republic first recognised Macedonian independence in March 1994, and since that time the two countries have enjoyed close diplomatic relations.
The head of the Internation al Federation of Journalists based in Brussels has heavily criticised the press bill put forward by the Czech government. Aidan White said that he shared the fears of many Czech journalists, saying that the bill was too general, too broad and hard to imagine in practice. Above all he warned that the bill did not offer journalists sufficient opportunity to protect their sources. He also condemned a paragraph that will give any citizen a right of reply if he or she is criticised in the press, even if the information is true. He said that this would give a green light to people trying to sabotage press freedom. Over the weekend the Federation issed a statement concluded that the best solution in the Czech Republic would be to have no press law at all.
The ruling Social Democrats have come a step closer to agreement on significant changes to the electoral system. Members of parliament for the party have agreed to proposals by the second strongest force in parliament, the right-wing Civic Democrats to increase the number of constituencies to thirty-six. If the decision is confirmed and approved by parliament it will bring the country far closer to a first-past-the-post system, significantly reducing the role of smaller parties in parliament. The two largest parties agreed last July that they would work together for electoral reform, after elections resulted in a Social Democrat minority government. Smaller parties have accused their two larger rivals of trying to create a political monopoly in the country.
Saturday's local elections in nineteen Czech towns and villages and one district of Prague were characterised in most areas by a low turnout. The polls were held in places where last autumn's local elections had failed to result in a workable coalition, or where political disputes had led local councillors to resign. As final results came through no single political party emerged as dominant, although in the most closely followed poll in the South Bohemian city of Ceske Budejovice, the two largest parties both saw their position weakened. Reflecting a trend seen in opinion polls at a national level, the Social Democrats in the city council lost several seats to the Communists. The right-of-centre Civic Democrats remained the strongest force in the city, but also lost two seats.
Prime Minister Milos Zeman has defended his government's "clean hands" campaign against economic corruption, although its first year has not led to a single successful conviction. Mr Zeman said that over eight hundred suspected cases had been mapped out, and that criminal charges had been recommended on over two hundred occasions. The Prime Minister acknowledged that the campaign had come up against bureaucratic hurdles, but he added that if the government were to interfere in the work of courts and investigators it would be a dangerous, undemocratic precedent.
The Social Democrat leadership has acknowledged that the party has been slow in fulfilling some of its electoral promises during its first year in government. The parliamentary party leader, Stanislav Gross, said that they should have acted more assertively in certain areas. Prime Minister Zeman pointed to a number of bills that have not yet gone to parliament, including a bill to establish a special police force against financial crime, and a bill that would force the better off to declare their property.
The deputy leader of the Civic Democrats and one of the country's most high-profile opposition politicians, Miroslav Macek, has called into question the success of NATO's campaign in Yugoslavia. Speaking on the private television station Nova, he said it would have been better if local politicians and residents had been left to resolve the conflict themselves, even at the price of further bloodshed. He said that no solution could be imposed from outside. On the same television programme the deputy chair of the Czech parliament and Social Democrat, Petra Buzkova, defended the NATO intervention, saying that otherwise Albania and Macedonia would almost certainly have been dragged into the conflict.
The soft drinks giant Coca-Cola has assured Czech consumers that they have nothing to fear from the latest Belgian food scare that has led to its products being removed from the shelves in a number of European countries. The firm said that the Czech Republic does not import any Coca-Cola products or components from Begium, and that the entire production process in the Czech Republic is closely monitored. Food inspectors confirmed that they have so far not registered any cases of defective Coca-Cola products being imported into the country.
And a quick look at the weather...
Over the next few days we can expect it to be a good deal cooler than of late, with a cold front coming from the north-west and temperatures between 14 and 18 degrees Celsius. Skies will be cloudy with further rain.
And I'll end with a glance at some things coming up today...
The Macedonian President will be meeting his Czech counterpart in Prague, at the launch of a state visit to the Czech Republic, Prague police are to attend a ceremony where they'll be officially presented with a special new tool to make their work easier - the bicycle, and in London Jana Novotna will begin her battle to overcome recent poor form and defend her coveted Wimbledon title.
And that's the end of the news.
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