You are tuned to Radio Prague, those were the headlines, now let's take a look at the news in full:
Czech President Vaclav Havel is set to swear in deputy Premier Vladimir Spidla on Friday, as a temporary replacement for Health Minister Ivan David. The President is also appointing Foreign Minister Jan Kavan in place of Egon Lansky who stepped down recently on grounds of ill health. Vladimir Spidla's appointment will last for the next two months, until Premier Milos Zeman comes up with a suitable long term candidate for the post of Health Minister. Kavan who is taking over from Lansky, will be in charge of preparing the Czech Republic for membership of the European Union.
Vaclav Klaus, leader of the main opposition party the Civic Democrats said on Thursday evening that a third version of next year's draft budget could be accepted, but only if it is properly discussed first. Referring to Tuesday's talks held with Premier Milos Zeman, Klaus called for a general agreement on the budget, saying no-one has so far tried to negotiate. This comes after the Civic Democrats on Wednesday rejected the current proposal of a 42 billion crown deficit. The Social democrat cabinet now has 30 days in which to come up with an alternative proposal.
Czech President Vaclav Havel and Hungarian Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi agreed on Thursday in Prague, that the world is unable to stop the tragedy currently unfolding in Chechnya. A spokesman later quoted the two politicians as saying that although western leaders are stepping up the pressure on Russia to stop the violations of human rights in the region, they are in effect powerless to stop the bloodshed. Martonyi said part of the problem is that the Russian campaign in Chechnya is supported by majority of Russians and President Havel called for more international protest against the violence.
Czech Health Minister Ivan David resigned on Thursday after a meeting with President Havel. He explained his reasons, saying both he and Premier Milos Zeman had been under pressure from members of the Social Democrat party. Deputies from all sides of the political spectrum and members of the Czech health care system have been calling for David's resignation for weeks. Vaclav Havel thanked Ivan David on Thursday, for his work in the health care sector, but rebuked him for poor communication with people working in the health care system.
Vladimir Spidla who is taking over from David said on Thursday that his main aim is to maintain stability in Czech health care and find a long term replacement for the minister.
David is the third minister to have left Milos Zeman's cabinet. The first was former Finance Minister Ivo Svoboda currently in jail on charges of embezzlement. The second former deputy Premier Egon Lansky, stepped down for health reasons amid condemnation over an illegal bank account in Austria and a critical EU progress report on the Czech Republic.
Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan stressed on Thursday in Prague that the Czech Republic and Hungary would like to become fully fledged members of the European Union in 2003. He made the announcement after talks with his Hungarian counterpart Janos Martonyi. They both acknowledged however, that European Union officials have been less optimistic recently about the two countries joining in 2003. The Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland are currently negotiating accession to the European Union, they are in the first wave of countries likely to be admitted.
The Ministers also said they welcomed the EU's intention to open formal talks with neighbouring Slovakia at a Summit on Friday, when the Union is expected to invite a second wave of applicants.
Kavan said he would like to see the Schengen agreement immediately extended to Slovakia when the first wave of countries become members, even if it is before the Slovaks are given full membership. The Schengen agreement allows free travel within member states but restricts access through the EU's external borders.
On Thursday, Martonyi also held talks with the Chairman of the lower house of Parliament Vaclav Klaus on European Integration and Czech - Hungarian ties. Klaus said later that they had agreed to work together as far as EU membership is concerned and said competing would be counter productive.
Vaclav Klaus, Chairman of the main opposition party the Civic Democrats, had harsh words for President Havel on Thursday. This comes after Havel's statements on Wednesday in which he criticized the Civic Democrats for continuing to support the government in spite of voting against the budget. Klaus retaliated on Thursday, saying the only reason Havel has reservations over the controversial power sharing deal between the Civic Democrats and the Social Democrats is because he did not participate in drawing up the opposition agreement himself.
On Thursday, the Czech Senate approved a law lifting the secrecy statute on crimes curing the communist era. What this means is that crimes which were committed against individuals or groups for whatever reasons, will now be investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice. The law was approved by 57 of the 61 senators present. It will come into effect at the end of December, once President Vaclav Havel has given his approval.
As the European Union Summit opens on Friday in Helsinki, an Austrian politician has cast a shadow on Czech aspirations for entering the Union. Josef Puhringer, the leader of upper Austria, the region bordering on the Czech Republic, said on Thursday, that the construction of the Soviet style nuclear power station Temelin makes Czech membership of the Union unacceptable for Austria. Speaking at a celebration held at the Austrian border town of Wullowitz, marking ten years since the fall of the iron curtain, Puhringer also questioned the Benes Decrees, which sanctioned the expulsion of millions of ethnic Germans after 1945. Jiri Vlach, a Czech deputy who was present, was quick to disagree. He said that these two issues should not become political debates. He also questioned Austria's right to set out conditions for Czech membership of the European Union.
The Czech Parliament approved a law on Thursday, calling for a referendum to be held on European Union membership. The law which will come into effect on 1st January 2001, still needs to be approved by President Havel and the Senate. The law was passed second time round after voting took place in a charged atmosphere as politicians insulted one another and the electronic equipment registering the votes failed.
The Czech Senate decided on Thursday that former deputy Premier Egon Lansky is to join the committee for European Integration. 46 of the 57 senators present voted to have Lansky working on the committee. Lansky who used to be responsible for Czech integration into the European Union, came under much criticism in the aftermath of a scathing EU progress report in October.
Friday will see cooler weather coming in over the Czech Republic, with the possibility of snow in some areas. Daytime temperatures will range from 4 to 8 degrees Celsius, dropping overnight to just below zero.
I'm Bill Bathurst and that's the end of the news.
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