The upper house of the Czech Parliament, the Senate, has rejected a controversial referendum bill, sending an amended version back to the lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, for approval. The Senate said the Czech Constitution should allow a referendum only on joining the European Union, and not on any issue of national importance as proposed by the lower house. The amendment was passed by thirty-nine of the sixty-one senators present. If the amended bill becomes law, EU entry will be approved in a national vote within 75 days of the Czech Republic signing the EU accession treaty. More than half of the electorate must take part in the referendum for EU membership to be approved. The Czech Republic aims to join the Union in 2003.
The Czech Foreign Minister, Jan Kavan, arrives in the Yugoslav capital Belgrade on Monday to offer humanitarian aid to the new Yugoslav government. A spokesman said Prague could assist in the rebuilding of railway bridges or power stations, many of which were destroyed in NATO bombing raids last year. He said Mr Kavan's visit would help re-establish traditional economic ties between the two countries, which suffered during the Milosevic era.
The Interior Ministers of five Central European countries have pledged to co-operate more closely to fight organised crime. Ministers from the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Austria and Hungary met in Bratislava on Friday, and signed a joint declaration of closer co-operation. They said their countries would work together to fight gangs smuggling illegal immigrants across their borders. The countries also agreed to form individual expert groups, with each country specialising in a specific cross-border problem. The Czech Republic has been charged with co-ordinating efforts to stop football hooligans from travelling abroad. The Slovak Interior Minister Ladislav Pittner described the fight against organised crime as the greatest challenge since the end of the Cold War.
A new project will encourage Roma children to trace the fate of family members who perished in the Holocaust. The project, sponsored by President Vaclav Havel, will encourage Roma children to learn more about the Holocaust from older relatives. A spokesman said the project would also help historians gather more information about the extermination of Czech Roma during the Second World War, a controversial and often neglected subject in the Czech Republic. More than 500 men, women and children are believed to have died in Czech-run concentration camps for Roma during the Nazi occupation of Bohemia and Moravia. The rest of the pre-war Roma population, numbering some 7,000 people, were transported to Auschwitz, where all but a handful were killed.
The Chamber of Deputies has approved the state budget for 2001 in its first reading. The budget will total 685 billion crowns, or seventeen billion dollars, with a deficit of 49 billion crowns, or one and a quarter billion dollars. The minority Social Democrat government and the main opposition Civic Democrats agreed on the figures for the budget early on Thursday morning, after extensive discussions on the total deficit for next year, and on the use of privatisation income to pay off state debts. The remaining opposition parties voted against. The Social Democrat Prime Minister Milos Zeman welcomed the vote, saying it would contribute to economic growth in the Czech Republic.
An Austrian member of the European Commission has criticised the Czech government for its actions concerning the Temelin nuclear power plant in South Bohemia, which was launched last week despite strong protests from Vienna. EU Commissioner Franz Fischler criticised the Czech government's handling of the issue, saying Prague good not afford to alienate its neighbours as it headed towards EU membership. Mr. Fischler, speaking to Austria's Die Presse newspaper, criticised the absence of a common EU policy on nuclear power.
And finally, the weather forecast. The weather on Saturday in the Czech Republic should start off foggy, followed by overcast cloudy skies, with scattered showers in places. The weather should remain cloudy and cool on Sunday.
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