A third test has confirmed a case of BSE, or mad cow disease, in the Czech Republic. The case was discovered last week during tests on a six-year-old cow at a farm in Southern Moravia. Agriculture Minister Jan Fencl confirmed on Thursday morning that the results of the third test, which had been sent to a specialised laboratory in Tubingen in Germany, had proven positive. The ministry will decided later in the day on Thursday exactly what measures to take against mad cow disease. Tests for BSE have already been introduced for all cattle aged over 30 months.
The Slovak police believe that up to 19 illegal Indian immigrants have drowned in the River Morava while trying to cross into the Czech Republic. Late on Monday night a Slovak border guard reportedly heard screams, and then saw bodies floating in the river. Police later found and rescued one man, who said that he was part of a group of 20 Indian refugees who were trying to cross into the Czech Republic and then into Germany. Police on the Czech side of the border have not found any trace of the rest of the group, and the Slovak authorities fear that they have drowned. The police believe that hundreds of refugees make the crossing every year, and that many die while trying to cross the Morava, which forms a natural border with the Czech Republic.
According to President Havel, Slovakia and Slovenia will be offered NATO membership at the Alliance's summit in Prague next year. President Havel's statements came during a NATO summit in Brussels. Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic joined NATO in March 1999, and there has been intense speculation as to whether further expansion of the Alliance will take place in the near future. Mr Havel said that there is a general agreement within NATO that both Slovakia and Slovenia will be offered membership. At the summit in Brussels, the Alliance's 19 member states also gave tentative support for the membership of the Baltic states. President Havel also said that NATO should aid Macedonia, where ethnic Albanians are battling against the majority Slav population.
Austria's finance minister, Karl-Heinz Grasser, says that unless the Benes Decrees are annulled, the Czech Republic will not be able to join the European Union. The Benes Decrees were issued after WWII and led to the expulsion of up to three million ethnic Germans, the Sudeten Germans, from Czechoslovakia. The issue has been a source of tension between the Czech Republic and Austria, where there is a large Sudeten German community. The Austrian finance minister, a member of the far-right Freedom Party, described the Benes Decrees as a gaping wound in relations between the two countries. Mr Grasser did not say how Austria would block Czech EU accession.
Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman, who is currently on a three-day official visit to Russia, met with his Russian counterpart Mikhail Kasyanov on Wednesday to discuss resolving Russia's debt to the Czech Republic of almost 3.7 billion US dollars. After the meeting, Mr Zeman told reporters that an agreement on clearing the debt will be signed within a month.
The Czech government has approved a proposed amendment to the electoral law, which would include the creation of fourteen electoral districts instead of the present total of eight. The proposed law also stipulates that separate political parties will need five percent of the vote to gain parliamentary representation. For coalition parties, each separate party would need to gain five percent for the coalition to make it into parliament. The law will now move to parliament, and must be approved by February 2002, in order to be valid in time for the next general elections in June. Although the government should be able to push the law through the Lower House with the support of the main opposition Civic Democrats, it will face problems in the Senate, where the opposition Four Party Coalition hold a majority.
The state prosecutor in Prague has called for a sentence of up to 12 years for a former Communist state prosecutor, for the murder of a Czech general after the Communist coup in 1948. Karel Vas was a state prosecutor in Czechoslovakia immediately after the Communist take-over, and oversaw various show trials against former high-ranking officers in the armed forces. One of these was General Heliodor Pika, who was sentenced to death on trumped up charges. Prague's state prosecutor believes that Mr Vas was fully aware of what he was doing, and believes he should received up to 12 years in prison, albeit in an open prison, because of his advanced age. Mr Vas' lawyer says that his client was unaware that the charges were fake, and that he is innocent of murder.
According to the latest public opinion poll, the Four Party Coalition, a grouping of small centre-right parties, is back in the lead with 22 percent. The coalition had topped the polls since before the new year after a strong showing in regional and Senate elections, until a poll last week placed the main opposition Civic Democrats in first place. In the latest poll, the governing Social Democrats come second with 20 percent, with the Civic Democrats just behind them with 19.5 percent.
And finally, a quick look at the weather forecast. Thursday should see partially cloudy to overcast skies with scattered showers in places. Daytime highs should reach 23 degrees Celsius. Night-time lows on Thursday could drop to 8 degrees Celsius. The weather on Friday is due to be much the same.
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