GERMAN DEFENCE MINISTER VISITING CZECH REPUBLIC
German defence minister, Rudolf Scharping, is arriving in the Czech republic today on a one day official visit. He is to meet his Czech counterpart, Vladimir Vetchy, as well as the prime minister Milos Zeman and president Vaclav Havel. Scharping, who has also visited Poland and Hungary this week, will discuss the readiness of the Czech republic for the upcoming NATO accession, as well as the relationship between defence resorts of the two countries. Both ministers are then to sign an agreement, securing flights of Czech and German military aircraft in the mutual border region airspace. Later in the day, both Vetchy and Scharping will leave for Munich, for a three day international conference on security policies.
Representatives of Czech compatriots in the United States expressed their dissatisfaction with the recent ruling by the Lower House of Czech Parliament, which conditions compatriot's restitution rights in the Czech republic on Czech citizenship. Czech compatriots' opinion was voiced by Jiri Horak, former social democratic chairman, and Mojmir Povolny, former chairman of the Council for Free Czechoslovakia - an organisaion seen as Czech exile government during the years of the communist regime. All Social Democrats, communists, and about half of the Civic Democratic deputies voted on Tuesday against the bill, which would remove Czech citizenship as a condition for the restitution of property, confiscated during the communist era.
In his comment for the New York office of Czech press agency CTK, Horak described the ruling as unfortunate and a further deepening of the gap between the Czech Republic and Czech compatriots abroad.
Mojmir Povolny, now the head of the Council for Czech and Slovak relations, said the ruling was unacceptable for compatriots who have restitution claims in the Czech Republic, and is yet another example of the discrimination of Czechoslovak exiles.
The Italian deputy foreign minister, Umberto Ranieri, who left Czech Republic yesterday after a two- day official visit, said Italy was willing to help Czech Republic in matters associated with the approaching EU membership, as well as combating the country's crime rate. Italy is the third largest EU investor in Czech Republic, after Germany and Austria, and Minister Ranieri confirmed Italy's intention to further invest in the Czech Republic. Recently, prime minister Zeman has showed interest in the assistance of Italian consultants in the government anti-corruption 'Clean Hands'campaign.
The forthcoming visit by the Italian prime minister Massimo D'Alema, scheduled for February 16, will provide more impetus to the development of Czech-Italian relations.
One hundred tonnes of humanitarian aid has been sent so far from the Czech Republic to the fighting region of Kosovo, in an effort organised by the 'People in Distress' foundation. The foundation has already sent 9 million Czech crowns worth of humanitarian aid to Kosovo - an equivalent of nearly 300 thousand US dollars, and a tenth shipment of humanitarian aid is leaving for Kosovo today, containing mainly medical supplies, winter clothing and toiletries. Tomas Vyhnalek, of the People in Distress foundation, said the aid would be distributed with the help of 700 regional distribution points run by Mother Theresa's foundation. The United Nations high commissioner for refugees has informed that in 1998, some 60 000 Kosovo people fled the country for neighbouring states, including Albania, while another 100.000 Kosovo refugees sought asylum in Western Europe
Czech prime minister Milos Zeman has warned that disclosing the names of the members of the co- ordination analytical commission, set up in autumn 1998 to help asses the scale of corruption and economic crime in Czech Republic, could have fatal consequences. Zeman has warned that in certain serious corruption affairs, members of the analytical government commission could become an easy target of hit men, once their identity was known. Zeman draw comparison with Italy and its high record of assassinations of judges trying the cases of corruption, or involved in campaigns similar to the 'Clean Hands' campaign, introduced in the Czech Republic by the Social Democratic government.
While premier Zeman advocates strongly for the names of the commission members not to be disclosed, Lower House deputy chairman and member of the Civic Democratic Party, Ivan Langer, claims that the role of the co-ordination analytical commission is only to assess the effectiveness of legal regulations and competencies of government bodies. This is not a reason, Langer says, for the names of its members to be kept secret from Czech Parliament and the public.
Czech Christian Democratic party joined president Havel in his recent disapproval of the findings of a legal team from Prague's Charles University, which puts in doubt the legal rights of Czech Roman Catholic church to property confiscated during the communist regime. Four days ago, Czech government concluded, based on findings of a legal expert team, that Roman Catholic Church has no right to a restitution of what it considers to be its property, as it had never been its owner in legal terms. In its comment reacting to the government statement issued on Monday, Christian Democrats emphasise that the church indeed is the true owner of the property. Daniel Herman, spokesman of the Czech Bishop's Conference, said that it is not the Catholic church as such, but its dioceses, parishes and religious orders, who are the owners. On Tuesday, Herman also mentioned the connection between the denial of the catholic church's restitution rights and the recent pressure by the Social Democrats to make members of Czech churches take part in the government canonical commission, despite the controversial presence of a communist member in the commission. Christian Democratic spokesman, Petr Koutny, added that it is misleading to conclude on the basis of an analysis carried out by two legal experts - that a stolen property should not be returned back.
It's windy, wet and partially cloudy here in the Czech Republic, with temperatures between 0 and 4 degrees Celsius.
I' m Marketa Atanasova and that's the end of the news.
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