Havel - press conference
At a press conference given by Vaclav Havel a year after the Czech president's inauguration, he spoke against the government's view that the Roman Catholic church has no right to get its property back. Mr. Havel said that an expertise elaborated for the cabinet by Charles University seems to be ridiculous given that it came 9 years after the start of the restitution process and claims that property should not be returned to its original owners. "This is something that lacks credibility," the president told newspeople. Commenting on last week's cabinet decision to remove from office director of the counter- intelligence service, Karel Vulterin, the president noted the reasons cited had not convinced him, and that the whole affair might damage the reputation of the Czech intelligence service abroad. On the other hand, though, Havel praised the cabinet for its intention to outline individual economic concepts in all the basic sectors of the Czech economy. He indirectly criticised former premier Vaclav Klaus by saying that the present economic crisis in the Czech Republic was caused by ideological fundamentalism, which had accompanied the first steps of our economy's transformation.
Italian Deputy Foreign Minister Umberto Ranieri arrives in Prague on Wednesday for a two day official visit. Mr. Ranieri will disucss with Czech officials the Czech Republic's preparations for EU membership. With his Czech counterpart and the country's envoy to the European Union, Pavel Telicka, Ranieri will talk about Italy's stand towards EU enlargement and also about the impact of the euro currency on the Italian economy. On Thursday, Ranieri will meet with Czech Foreign minister Jan Kavan and will sign an inter-governmental agreement on air transport at the Transport ministry in Prague.
The senatorial committee for foreign affairs, defence and security will deal with the leakage of information about the Prague resident of the British intelligence service, M16. Chairman of the Committee Michael Zantovsky has told this to the Mlada Fronta Dnes daily on Wednesday. "The whole affair has developed into a very serious problem, which must be resolved," said Zantovsky, adding that the leakage is jeopardising the Czech Republic's foreign policy as well as the country's security. The British agent allegedly sent to Minister Jaroslav Basta and to former director of the Czech counter-intelligence service Karel Vulterin a letter, in which he complained about bad work of Vulterin's office. As a result, Vulterin was removed from his post by the government last week.
A February meeting of the lower house of the Czech parliament started in Prague on Tuesday. The deputies were debating, among other things, a bill on referendum submitted by the ruling Social democrats and the Communists. Since the bill is aimed at becoming a constitutional law, 120 out of 200 lower house deputies would have had voted for it. The bill has not been approved. A governmental bill on lotteries was also under discussion. If approved it will again enable foreign companies to run casinos and organize consumer competitions. Because companies with foreign capital have so far been excluded from this kind of activity, the Czech Republic has been subjected to a hail of criticism from the European Union and the United States. According to this governmental proposal, the law would only apply to lotteries where the winnings exceeded 200 thousand crowns. Parliamet has proposed raising the limit to half a million crowns.
The Czech Statistical office says last year's gross domestic product dropped by 2,6 percent. According to its updated macroeconomic prognosis, the Office further says that this year, the GDP is expected to shrink by 0,8 percent. Economic analysts, however, claim that this prediction is too pessimistic - they expect the Czech economy to stagnate in 1999, going on to explain that by the end of June, the slump might end. This could happen thanks to a relatively fast growth of real wages and also thanks to money that will flow-in to the economy from the deficit state budget. The inflation rate at the end of 1999 should reach 5,8 percent, which would be the lowest over the past five years.
Communist deputy Dalibor Matulka does not intend to resign from a nine- member governmental commission set up to clarify the relations between the State and the Church. Matulka claims that Czech atheists should also have a say in this sphere of public life. He told the CTK news agency on Tuesday that the Communist party is known to represent non-believers, and therefore decided to send its representative to the governmental commission because the future agreement on the position of the Church should be based on an all-nation consensus. Church officials have been strongly opposed to the idea of a communist having any say about church matters.
The flu epidemic in the Czech Republic is spreading further. All districts have reported an increase in the number of cases, with a week- to-week rise of around 45 percent. The epidemic has hit all age groups, and many of the country's schools have had to close. According to the main Prague hygenist Vladimir Polanecky, the flue epidemic in the capital has reached its peak, and will decline next week. That's why he sees no reason to close schools in Prague. There are some 33 thousand people down with flu in Prague at present.
Eight people were killed and 22 seriously injured in a bus crash in Tuesday's morning rush hours. The accident happened about 20 kilometres west of Prague, when a bus carrying commuters from the industrial town of Kladno to Prague hit a parked lorry. Police said a car was also involved in the accident at Stredokluky, where police, firemen and a rescue helicopter were involved.
President Vaclav Havel will receive at a private breakfast the Prague archbishop, Cardinal Miloslav Vlk.
Italian Deputy Foreign Minister Umberto Ranieri is coming to Prague to discuss the Czech Republic's preparations for EU membership.
The lower house will continue its February meeting which started yesterday.
I'm AS and that's the end of the news.
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