Thirty-seven members of the Czech PEN Club have expressed support to President Vaclav Havel, who they said is facing a smear campaign in the media.
In an open letter, intellectuals including writers Ivan Klima and Ludvik Kundera accused a leading private television of having featured a distasteful joke on Havel in its primetime news programme. They also criticised politicians and media for belittling the importance of President Havel's televised New Year message to the nation in which he warned against attempts to build new walls to divide the Czech society.
The intellectuals stressed that while Havel does not stand above criticism, it is indecent to denigrate the man who has not compromised his beliefs for decades.
United States' Commerce Department has put the Czech Republic on the list of countries to which specialised U.S. encryption commodities and software can be exported without licence.
The move was announced on Thursday by the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs, quoting sources at the American embassy in Prague.
The Czech Republic was left out of the original list of 45 countries, issued in November. That would have indicated that Prague fails to enforce laws on the protection of intellectual property.
According to some sources, the belated inclusion of the Czech Republic may be either an attempt to correct an administrative error or the result of a review of Prague's credibility made on the basis of newly acquired information.
The Dutch telephone company KPN, rumoured to be at the centre of a bribery scandal shrouding the privatisation of the Czech telecommunications monopoly SPT Telecom three years ago, confirmed on Thursday that it has asked two independent auditing firms to verify its accounting records.
KPN officials said its aim was to prove that neither their company nor its subsidiary TelSource have made unauthorised payments in connection with the Czech Telecom that would constitute breach of the law or of common decency.
The KPN's Board of Supervisors ordered the audit on Wednesday in an effort to stem the flow of groundless accusations that KPN and the Swiss firm Swisscom have bribed Czech political parties in order to win a stake in SPT Telecom.
Less than a fourth of the Czechs polled in a recent survey would support erecting a memorial to the victims of a World War Two concentration camps for Romanies in Lety near the South Bohemian town of Pisek.
Another fourth of the respondents were indifferent to the problem and two fifths of those polled said they were against.
An exclusive survey by the STEM polling agency for the public service Czech Radio and Czech Television shows that few people would send donations to the memorial fund and about one quarter of those asked believe that ethnic Roma people suffered less under the Nazis than Jews.
The site of the former camp is today occupied by a pig farm.
Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan says his government has no doubts over Germany's support for enlarging the European Union.
Kavan said on Thursday after talks with his German counterpart Joschka Fischer in Prague that Germany had made it clear the 15- nation E.U. would have to reform its finances before taking in new East European members. He said this view was understood and backed by Prague.
Our correspondent says E.U. leaders are currently involved in tough talks over setting annual national contributions for the bloc's budget. Germany, which currently holds the E.U.'s rotating presidency, says it wants negotiations wrapped up by March.
Fischer said after talks with Kavan and Czech Premier Milos Zeman that Bonn would throw its full weight behind a rapid eastward expansion of the E.U.
He warned that if expansion is delayed Europe could plunge into a deep political crisis. He said public discussion of E.U. membership for eastern European candidates was a "virtual debate" largely being held by the media.
Tennis -- and U.S. Open champion Pat Rafter suffered a major early season setback on Friday, losing to lowly ranked Czech Slava Dosedel in the second round of the Adelaide men's hardcourt championships.
World number four Rafter was comprehensively outplayed by the 64th- ranked Czech, who trumped him with repeated passing shots for a 7-5 7-4 6-4 victory.
Tennis -- and world number one Lindsay Davenport on Thursday joined the rising chorus of complaint over what many players feel is a cover-up of a positive drug-test drama surrounding Australian Open winner Petr Korda of the Czech Republic.
Davenport said in Perth, Australia she was surprised at the light sanctions taken against Korda after he failed to a drug test at last year's Wimbledon.
Her criticism came less than 24 hours after Swede Jonas Bjorkman expressed disgust with the slap-on-the-wrist sanctions meted out to Korda, who tested positive for the banned steroid Nandrolone.
The case was revealed last month by the governing International Tennis Federation. The 31-year-old Czech lost 199 ranking points and almost 95,000 dollars in prize money he earned at Wimbledon, but was not suspended or banned.
He has protested his innocence, saying he had no idea how the substance got into his body and showed up in a standard urine test at the Grand Slam.
And finally, a look at the weather. Friday will be a wet day in the Czech Republic, with some scattered snow showers in the mountains. We expect daytime highs between three and seven degrees Celsius.
At the weekend, cold northwestern air will intrude into the Czech Republic bringing along a lot of precipitation, some of it in the form of snow. Nighttime lows will be around zero Celsius, daytime highs from one to five on Saturday, and around freezing point on Sunday.
I am Libor Kubik and that's the end of the news.
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