The devastating winds that have hit much of Western Europe reached the Czech Republic on Sunday afternoon. Although they did not reach the force seen in France and Germany, there was widespread damage and many roads were blocked by fallen trees. In several parts of the country winds reached hurricane force, with the greatest damage caused in western and northern border areas towards the German border. Icy conditions on Christmas Day also led to a spate of road accidents. In Prague a bus-driver was serious injured and five passengers were slightly hurt when the bus skidded off the road.
Despite the weather Christmas passed quietly in the Czech Republic and much of the country enjoyed a White Christmas. Christmas masses were held throughout the country. On Christmas Eve Prague's Archbishop Cardinal Vlk led Midnight Mass at the Church of Saint Mary in the Snows, just off Wenceslas Square. Addressing a large congregation he called on people to preserve something of the Christmas spirit for the rest of the year, saying that we can create a little bit of paradise even in our daily lives. In its Christmas programming Czech Radio broadcast a talk between President Havel and the former dissident bishop Vaclav Maly. On a pessimistic note the President said that without a major spiritual renewal our civilization will be doomed for the coming millennium. He also called on religious leaders to play an active role in politics, although Bishop Maly disagreed, saying he believed the church and politics should remain distinct.
The French capital Paris was given a Czech Christmas treat on Christmas Eve, as the young and highly acclaimed Czech mezzosoprano, Magdalena Kozena was soloist at Midnight Mass in Notre Dame. The Mass was followed by millions on French television, and the congregation consisted mainly of the city's poor and people with disabilities, who attended on the invitation of charities.
The Catholic Church in the Czech Republic on Christmas Day launched celebrations to celebrate two thousand years of Christianity. There were special Masses held in cathedral cities throughout the country, and over two-and-a-half thousand believers joined a procession through the centre of the Czech Republic's second city, Brno. Meanwhile Protestant churches have responded with rather less enthusiasm. One church leader said he would not allow himself to be hyptnotised just by a number.
The Finance Minister, Pavel Mertlik, has said that the state budget deficit for 1999 looks likely to be lower than originally predicted. He pointed to an economic revival in the course of December and expressed hope that the deficit would be less than the predicted forty billion crowns, which is just over a billion US dollars. Mr Mertlik said that tax revenues had been higher than estimated. He also predicted higher economic growth for the year 2000. He pointed to figures for the third quarter of this year when the GDP went up by 0.8 percent ending a long period of stagnation.
The privatisation of one of the largest Czech banks Ceska sporitelna is looking less certain, after talks of selling the bank to the Austrian Erste Bank Sparkassen have failed to lead to a conclusive deal. The finance minister Pavel Mertlik said that the committee set up to supervise the sale is not entirely happy with the price offered. Erste Bank has been given first option until the end of January by which time the Czech side will have to make a final decision. The Austrian bank says it does not intend to increase its offer.
And some sports news. The Czech national team started the world junior ice hockey championships in Sweden on excellent form, with a 5:2 victory over Slovakia. They owed a great deal to the fine goaltending of Zdenek Smid. On Sunday they went on to battle out a 2:2 draw against the United States. Once again the goaltender Smid was the team's greatest strength.
And finally a look at the weather.
We can expect further snow and sleet showers throughout Monday, with temperatures up to 4 degrees Celsius. Nighttime temperatures will sink to below freezing and we can expect it to remain cold on Tuesday.
And from me, David Vaughan, that's all from the newsroom.
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