These are the main points and now the news in more detail.
The lower house of the Czech parliament has started a second reading of the draft state budget for 1999. The minority Social Democrat cabinet would prefer support from the Civic Democrats to that of the Communists, nevertheless, Premier Zeman said all votes counted. Zeman stressed though that the cabinet was bound by international agreements, referring to an offer made by the Communist party that its MPs would vote for the state budget in exchange for large cuts in defense spending.
The Czech Statistical Office has announced that the unemployment rate in December reached 7.5 percent, up from 7 percent in the previous month, and the annual increase exceeding 2 percent. The lowest unemployment rate was in Prague and in Central Bohemia. Unemployment rates of more than ten percent were registered in 16 districts, with the highest number of jobless people being in the North Bohemian region of Most. Analysts attribute the development to the impact of austerity measures adopted in 1997 and 1998. They also see the growing unemployment rate as the main problem the Czech economy will have to face and predict that it will exceed 9 percent by the end of the year.
The Dutch government has no evidence of bribery connected with the privatisation of the Czech SPT Telecom in 1995 or evidence of any steps leading to such bribery. In a letter signed by Dutch Transport and Telecommunications Ministry state secretary Monique de Vries, the Dutch government asks Czech authorities to investigate the accusation of bribery by the Dutch telecommunications company KPN themselves. The Hague is ready to cooperate in the investigation but has no evidence of any alleged bribery, so the investigation is up to the Czech authorities, the letter says. The KPN company is a majority owner of the TelSource consortium which owns 27 percent of Telecom's shares.
The Czech government has postponed a decision on visa policy. On Monday, the cabinet discussed a proposal on the introduction of entry visas for some East European countries. The plan is part of Prague's harmonisation with the European Union. Foreign minister Jan Kavan said the plan needed a wider discussion and warned that the visa requirement might negatively affect trade with the countries concerned and that the Czech Republic would have to expect a reciprocal measure from them.
British deputy home secretary Mike O'Brian is visiting Prague. The main item on his agenda are talks on Roma migration with representatives of the Czech government, justice and the Roma minority. Another issue he is going to discuss with his counterparts is drug abuse prevention. Czech Education Minister Eduard Zeman told reporters before O'Brian's arrival that over the past two years, Britain has allocated about 2.5 million CZK for the implementation of drug prevention schemes at Czech schools.
President Vaclav Havel has accepted lower house speaker Vaclav Klaus's invitation for joint talks about the current problems of the country. The two officials will meet next Monday at Prague Castle. Vaclav Klaus's invitation was a reaction to president Havel's New Year's message in which he called for the breaking down of the barriers between ordinary people, ethnic groups and politicians.
Freedom Union deputy leader Petr Mateju added his voice to his colleague Ivan Pilip's allegations about talks being held between the ruling Social Democrats and senior opposition Civic Democrats concerning the next president. Pilip hinted on Sunday that negotiations were underway to open the way for Civic Democrat leader and lower house speaker Vaclav Klaus to become the Czech president. In exchange, the Civic Democrats would allow the Social Democrat minority cabinet to remain in office. Representatives of both parties concerned dismissed the allegations as groundless.
The inflation rate in December dropped by two tenths of a percent, according to the latest data from the Czech Statistical Office. The average inflation for 1998 reached 10.7 percent. The consumer price index rose by almost 7 percent year-on-year, and net inflation in 1998 was only 1.7 percent, far below the Czech National Bank's inflation target of around 6 percent. Central Bank spokesman Martin Svehla said the decrease of inflation was to a large extent due to external factors, mainly the favourable development of oil prices on world markets.
And finally, the weather forecast. Weather in the Czech Republic will be influenced by a low-pressure area. It should be cloudy to overcast, with scattered snow showers. Afternoon highs should range from 3 degrees Celsius below zero to 1 above. Wednesday and Thursday should be much the same, cloudy with snow showers, with highest daytime temperatures hovering around zero.
And that's the end of the news.
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