Daily news summary News Wednesday, JANUARY 26th, 2000

26-01-2000

Those were the main points, and now the news in full.

CZECH-ISRAEL

Israel's Foreign Minister David Levy said here in Prague his country was sending a delegation to Washington for the long-delayed peace talks with Syria. Levy arrived in Prague on Tuesday at the start of his first-ever visit to the Czech Republic.

Levy, who is also deputy prime minister in the government of Ehud Barak, is to meet on Wednesday with President Vaclav Havel, Prime Minister Milos Zeman and Lower House Speaker Vaclav Klaus.

Levy will attend a seminar of Israeli ambassadors to Central Europe and countries of the former Soviet Union for briefings on the current state of Middle East peace talks.

Problems of the Czech Republic's Jewish community are also to be discussed. On Monday, the Czech cabinet passed a bill which would sanction the return of Jewish assets confiscated by Germans during the Nazi occupation of this country in World War II.

CZECH-POLITICS-PACT

The two largest Czech parties on Wednesday signed a deal on budget and legislative reforms, ending a threat to topple the minority Social Democrat government.

The centre-right Civic Democratic Party and the ruling Social Democrats approved a five-point scheme that would extend the Civic Democrats' key support for Prime Minister Milos Zeman and his cabinet.

The move met with disapproval on the part of the Social Democrat's deputy chairwoman Petra Buzkova. She said she would tender her resignation at the nearest meeting of her party's top executive assembly.

The deal sets out a framework for state budgets for the next three years, electoral reforms, and cooperation on European Union preparations.

A third attempt at a 2000 budget has been held up pending the outcome of the two-party talks, but the new deal allows for the approval of the first reading of the budget scheduled for Wednesday.

CZECH-HOUSE-LEFT

Left-wing members of the Czech parliament failed on Tuesday to block further debate of a draft amendment to the penal code under which courts could jail persons found guilty of public incitement of class and religious hatred.

The draft will now go into the committees. It was fiercely opposed by the largely unreformed Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia who fears it could be outlawed under the proposed new legislation.

CZECH-MEDIA

The opposition right-of-centre Civic Democratic Alliance has called on the ODS Vice Chairman Ivan Langer to resign as head of the parliamentary commission on the media, citing the outgoing chief of the public-service Czech Television as saying he and party leader Vaclav Klaus have exerted political pressure on his organisation.

Langer had reportedly criticised Czech TV boss Jakub Puchalsky's poor and biased coverage of last year's Senate by-elections in which an ODS candidate was defeated by an independent contester.

Langer said on Tuesday Puchalsky's accusations were absurd, and ODS leader Vaclav Klaus described the outgoing Czech TV director's testimony as "outrageously brazen".

CZECH-BRITAIN-ROMA

The British Home Office says the number of ethnic Roma from the Czech Republic seeking asylum in Britain was up last month, and above the psychological mark of 200 applicants a month. It said the actual number was 205.

But the Foreign Office indicated it has no immediate plans for re-imposing a visa requirement on Czech citizens because of Roma emigration.

Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan said during his recent visit to London that Britain's position on the visas remained unchanged.

CZECH-BISHOPS-ELECT

The Archbishop of Olomouc, Jan Graubner, has been elected a new president of the Czech Bishops' Conference -- an assembly of 16 Roman Catholic dignitaries.

Graubner, who is the Catholic primate of Moravia, is widely considered a conservative. He succeeds in the post the Czech primate, Cardinal Miloslav Vlk, who has served two consecutive terms. Cardinal Vlk also ceased to be chairman of the Council of European Bishops' Conferences.

HAVEL-HOLOCAUST-MEMORIAL

On Thursday, Czech President Vaclav Havel will attend a memorial service at the Prague Castle for the victims of nazism, racism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia.

Havel's spokesman said on Tuesday that the Prague event, similarly as the preceding Stockholm forum and last year's conference on the phenomenon of Holocaust, which the president sponsored in the former Nazi concentration camp at Terezin outside Prague, were to keep the international community aware of the horrors wrought by nazism.

TOWN-FENCE-ROMA-SALE

The notorious concrete fence, which briefly separated a Roma settlement from Czech residents in the North Bohemian city of Usti nad Labem last year, is for sale.

A local official said on Tuesday the asking price of the dismantled Maticni Street Wall was 210,000 crowns -- or just under 6,000 U.S. dollars. Bidders are invited to send their offers to the Nestemice District Hall not later than February 17.

The local authorities had the fence erected last year in order to protect local residents against noise and disruption caused by tenants in the nearby local council houses.

But the wall was torn down in November following criticism by Czech and foreign politicians and human rights activists who considered the wall an expression of racist hate.

CZECH-ALCOHOL-POLL

Over 20 percent of Czech men drink alcohol daily or almost every day. This according to a survey conducted by the Sofres-Facum polling agency. In contrast, only four percent of the women polled admitted they drink alcohol on a regular basis.

Only seven percent of men and less than 20 percent of women said they never touch alcohol. Nearly 40 percent of the men and 15 percent of women questioned admitted they drink twice to four times a week.

CZECH-COLD-DEATH

The current spell of freezing weather in much of Europe has claimed its first Czech victim.

A 46-year-old skier was found dead on Tuesday in a field near the town of Nachod. A police spokesman said an autopsy had been ordered to ascertain the exact cause of the death of the man, who was last seen alive on Friday.

CZECH-WEATHER

And freezing weather is going to stay with for quite some time, I'm afraid. In the next few days, brace yourselves for nighttime lows between eight and 12 degrees Celsius below zero, and daytime highs will not exceed six to eight below zero.

We are also expecting quite frequent snow showers across the territory of the Czech Republic. Too bad for the guys like yours truly, who have to shovel snow every morning before six AM.

I am Libor Kubik and that’s the news.

26-01-2000