The Czech Republic began accession negotiations with the EU on three chapters of legislation on Friday, and there was disagreement over the customs union that exists between the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The Czech and Slovak prime ministers agreed formally this week that the customs union will be maintained until both countries have joined the EU. The EU has officially accepted this possibility, but says that the customs union will have to be halted and then recommenced after the Czech Republic joins the EU. The Czech Republic hopes to join the EU in 2003, and Slovakia wants to join in 2004. The Czech Republic's chief negotiator, Pavel Telicka, rejects the EU's suggestion, saying that halting the union would interrupt the free flow of goods between the two countries. The Slovaks, however, finalised the internal relations chapter of legislation, of which the customs union is a part, during negotiations on Thursday. Pavel Telicka now intends to propose a compromise, in order to close this chapter of legislation as soon as possible.
According to the Czech Minister of Finance, Pavel Mertlik, the amendments proposed by the opposition Civic Democrats to the law on the Czech National Bank, threaten the bank's independence. Mr. Mertlik says that while he is not against obliging the government and the bank to work together, it must be on an even footing, and not in conflict with the standpoint of the European Central Bank. The European Central Bank fears that if the amendments are approved, the political pressure on the bank's decision-making processes could threaten its independence. According to Mr. Mertlik, if the law goes beyond what is acceptable to the ECB, then he cannot support it.
As of Monday, visa restrictions will be applied between the Czech republic and Russia. All Russian and Belorussian citizens will now have to apply for a visa at the Czech embassy in Moscow. The same applies to the Czechs, who have been warned by the Russian embassy in Prague to expect a delay of nine days while their applications are processed. The embassy has also noted that there have been queues of Czechs lining up to apply for visas in the past few days.
Greek President Konstantinos Stefanopulos has told Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman that he unconditionally supports the Czech Republic's aspirations for EU membership. His remarks came during a meeting between the two on Friday in Athens. In return, Mr. Zeman gave his support for Cyprus' bid for membership. Mr. Stefanopulos and Mr. Zeman then discussed the situation in the Balkans and the fact that Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic seems to be strengthening his position. The Czech Prime Minister said that unfortunately outside pressure on dictatorships can sometimes strengthen them instead of weakening them. Instead of returning on Friday according to plan, Mr. Zeman will spend the weekend on the island of Crete, where he is due to open a Czech consulate.
President Vaclav has proposed that a documentation centre be set up to monitor human rights violations in Chechnya. The president's statements came during a conference held on human rights violations in the Chechen conflict at Prague Castle on Friday. President Havle also called on Russia to open Chechen borders for foreign observers and humanitarian organisations. The participants at the conference were in agreement that the international community must make it clear to Russia that the way the conflict in Russia is being fought is unacceptable. Simon Panek from the People in Need foundation stated that if Europe is able to isolate Austrian diplomats and politicians over the inclusion of the extreme right Freedom Party in the Austrian government, then the same standards should be applied in Russia.
The weather on Sunday should continue warm but wet, with rain showers and thunderstorms in places. Temperatures during the day should be between twenty one and twenty five degrees centigrade. The weather on Monday will be the same, but with slightly lower temperatures, of between sixteen and twenty degrees centigrade.
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