Daily news summary News of Radio Prague

03-07-2001

Cabinet confirms planned budget deficit but does not give details

The Czech cabinet has approved a draft state budget for next year. It counts on a deficit of ten billion crowns, or just over 250 million US dollars, considerably less than the deficit for the current year. The Finance Minister, Jiri Rusnok, said that the precise figure would be confirmed after more detailed ministerial discussions in two weeks' time. The cabinet also confirmed that it would put aside over 800 million crowns to finance the top-level NATO summit to be held in Prague in autumn next year. No less than forty-six heads of state will be attending the summit, and a huge security operation is expected.

Increase in the number of asylum seekers

A new report on migration compiled by the Czech Interior Ministry shows that the number of asylum seekers in the Czech Republic is increasing. The Interior Minister, Stanislav Gross, said that figures for the year 2000 were up by twenty-two percent on the previous year, with nearly 9 000 foreign citizens applying for asylum. He added that the number of asylum seekers continued to accelerate in the first half of this year. Mr Gross claimed that some people were deliberately taking advantage of the slow pace of dealing with applications as a means of prolonging their stay in the country.

More details about letter bombs

Police experts have confirmed that the series of letter bombs, sent to members of the former management of the collapsed housing development company H-System at the beginning of May, were homemade, using materials readily available in high street shops. The child of one of the addressees suffered serious injuries after a device exploded in his hands. Police are still no closer to finding the culprit, but they confirmed that all the bombs probably came from the same source. They suspect that the bombs could have been sent by one of several hundred investors, who lost their savings when the firm went bankrupt three years ago. A separate police investigation into the circumstances around the bankruptcy is continuing, with several of H-System's former managers facing charges.

Foreign Minister confident of EU progress

The Czech Foreign Minister, Jan Kavan, has expressed confidence that a further six of the chapters required for the country to join the European Union will be concluded by the end of the year. The chapters outline the main conditions for membership. He said he was optimistic that they would include the chapter on free movement, which has caused tensions with Austria and Germany, because of fears of an influx of cheap labour from new member countries. Mr Kavan added that the Swedish EU presidency had seen considerable progress on the path towards expansion, but he warned that future negotiations on energy policy and taxation could prove particularly delicate.

Anti-nuclear activists stage symbolic protest

Anti-nuclear protestors demonstrated outside the Czech Government offices with a symbolic execution block on Monday morning. The gesture was in reaction to a promise made last year by the Trade and Industry Minister, Miroslav Gregr, that he would put his head on the block and resign if the Temelin nuclear power plant went any further over budget. Temelin is currently in trial operation. Jan Beranek of the Hnuti Duha environmental protest group accused the minister of massaging figures in order to conceal further expenses of several billion crowns.

Rates of teenage drinking high

A prominent Czech expert on drug-related diseases has said that teenage drinking is a serious problem in the Czech Republic. Doctor Karel Nespor quoted statistics suggesting that 98 percent of Czech sixteen-year-olds had already had experiences with alcohol, contrasting dramatically with figures for the United States. There, he said, no less than a third of sixteen-year-olds had never tried alcohol. He added that the rate of heavy teenage drinking was also far higher in the Czech Republic. Dr Nespor accused the Czech authorities of being too liberal in their attitudes towards under-age drinking, and called for laws that ban the sale of alcohol to anyone under 18 to be more strictly enforced.

Trade deficit with Russia deepens

The Czech Republic's trade deficit with Russia has risen to nearly eight hundred million US dollars, over fifteen percent higher than the same period last year. The director of the government trading agency Czechtrade, Martin Tlapa, attributed the problem to an increase in oil and natural gas imports as Czech industry moves out of recession. He said that Czech firms would try to revive exports to Russia at the international trade-fair in Saint Petersburg later this year. Czechtrade also plans to open two further offices in the Russian Federation.

EU citizens not informed about expansion

The European Union has published the results of an opinion poll suggesting that three quarters of EU citizens feel that they have been told little or nothing about the planned expansion of the Union. Over forty percent of those asked had not even heard of the EU summit in Nice last December, where the foundations for expansion were laid. Sixteen percent of respondents said that the EU should not admit any of the current applicants, and only 12 percent remembered the Czech Republic as one of the front-runner candidates. A spokesman for the EU Commission acknowledged that the Union's information campaign still left much to be desired.

Weather

Today should stay bright with temperatures between 20 and 24 degrees Celsius, although in the course of the day we might see the occasional shower. Temperatures should stay much the same on Wednesday, but it will be overcast with showers and possible thunderstorms.

03-07-2001