Those were the headlines, now the news in more detail:
The Lower House of Parliament has approved a law which, if approved by the Senate, will return property confiscated from Czech Jews during the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia. Of the one hundred and sixty one Members of Parliament present, one hundred and forty three voted in favour of the law, and the Communist Party abstained. Under the new law, all property confiscated from Czech Jews, Jewish communities and organisations between September 1938 and May 1945, will be returned to their owners or their descendants. If this property, however, forms part of a national park, or is absolutely essential to the running of the Czech state, it will not be returned. Applicants have until the end of 2002 to apply for their property, and the Ministry of Culture is setting up an Internet site, with photographs where possible, of 2,500 works of art, to help victims and their families locate their property. As part of the new law, sixty three works of art confiscated by the Nazis, including a painting by Renoir, will be donated to the Jewish Museum in Prague.
According to the Belgian Foreign Minister, Antoine Duquesne, Belgium is not considering introducing visa restrictions for Czechs. Belgium introduced visa restrictions for Slovaks in April, following an influx of Slovak Roma asylum seekers earlier this year. Following an increase in the numbers of Czech Roma asylum seekers arriving in Belgium earlier this year, Brussels threatened to introduce a similar measure against the Czechs. The number of Czech Roma seeking asylum in Belgium, however, dropped by fifty percent in April. The Belgium Foreign Minister informed Czech Deputy Foreign Minister Martin Palous on Wednesday that Belgium has speeded up the screening process for asylum seekers, and this allows Brussels to send unsuccessful applicants home within a short period of time. Therefore, visa restrictions against the Czechs are now unlikely.
The Lower House of Parliament has approved a new law, called the crisis law, which will grant regional governors and town mayors the right to declare a state of alert in the event of natural, ecological or industrial disasters. In the event that local government will not be able to cope, even in a state of alert, regional governors and town mayors will be allowed request that the Czech government call a state of emergency. The new law is due to come into effect as of January next year, and must first be passed by the Senate.
Prime Minister Milos Zeman is to start a two-day visit to Greece on Thursday with a meeting with Greek Prime Minister Kostas Simitis concerning the political and economic stabilisation of the Balkans. The prime ministers are also due to discuss EU enlargement, and Greek experiences with this process.
The European Central Bank has warned against some of the proposed changes to a law on the Czech National Bank that is currently being debated in the Lower House of Parliament. According to the ECB, one of the problem areas is a proposal that Parliament be allowed to approve reports on the bank's currency policy, and also to reject them. In the event of a rejection, the Czech National Bank would then have to return within six weeks with a report incorporating Parliament's demands. This, says the ECB would harm the independence of the bank. The European Union has so far not commented officially on the issue, but has stressed its dissatisfaction with the current parliamentary debate, as reducing the independence of the Czech National Bank would further distance Czech legislation from that of the EU. The original proposal for the new law would have brought it in line with EU legislation.
Foreign Minister Jan Kavan has called on NATO to provide better protection for ethnic minorities in Kosovo. Mr. Kavan's statements came at a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Florence. Mr. Kavan said that while on the one hand the NATO presence in the Serbian province has increased security for the general public, the results of the past year have not been completely satisfying. The Alliance, the foreign minister said, has to continue to build a democratic and multi-ethnic Kosovo, where human rights will be respected and where all ethnic groups will participate in the administration of the province. According to Mr. Kavan, NATO cannot tolerate any form of ethnic cleansing, whether of Serbs, Albanians, Roma or Jews, and it must give a clear signal that Alliance campaign last year signifies a new chapter in the history of the region.
The province of Upper Austria has set aside sixteen million shillings, or roughly eight million dollars, for activities against the completion of the Temelin nuclear power plant in South Bohemia. The Czech Minister of Trade and Industry has called this a direct violation of the sovereignty of the Czech Republic. According to a representative of the Upper Austrian provincial government, the funds are being used primarily to gather information on the Temelin nuclear power plant, particularly information on both safety and economic questions, and is being carried out in co-operation with Czech institutions. A spokesperson from the Ministry of Industry and Trade told the Czech News Agency, however, that the ministry has so far received no requests for information from Upper Austria.
The Association of Political Prisoners has criticised a request from a Sudeten German association for compensation for German victims of violence in former Czechoslovakia. The Sudeten German association has requested that all Sudeten Germans who were victims of persecution, including interment or imprisonment, in Czechoslovakia from 1945 to 1953, receive financial compensation. The Chairman of the Czech Association of Political Prisoners, Oldrich Stransky, responded by saying that it was clear that the forces of Nazism are still influential. According to Mr. Stransky, the Sudeten Germans have already received compensation for lost property, while Czechs victims of Nazism have yet to receive any compensation.
The Czech company in charge of providing support for Czech trade predicts that the budget deficit could increase by up to fifty percent this year. The expected rise is due in part to increased fuel prices, and the final deficit for the year 2000 could reach ninety six billion Czech Crowns, or almost two and half billion dollars.
And it's bad news for a thief in the North Moravian town of Javornik, who chose to rob a petrol station opposite the local police station. The young man held up the petrol station, beating the female attendant in the process, and then tried to make his escape on foot, with fifty thousand Czech Crowns, or just over a thousand dollars. The petrol station attendant, in the meantime, shouted across the road to the police station, and police officers arrested the young man, said the local police spokesman, before he had got more than a few metres down the road.
The weather on Thursday promises to be a bit warmer, with a warm front coming in from the south. We should see partially cloudy skies, with the possibility of rain showers or thunderstorms in places. Temperatures during the day should range between twenty three and twenty seven degrees centigrade. Temperatures during the night should be around twelve degrees centigrade.
I'm Nick Carey, and that's the end of the news.
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