Austria's far-right Freedom Party has given a clear indication that it is ready to bring down the government over the Czech Republic's controversial Temelin nuclear power plant. The Freedom Party's parliamentary leader, Peter Westenhaler, told reporters on Wednesday that his party would continue to demand a veto of the Czech Republic's membership of the European Union, even at the cost of destroying the ruling coalition with the conservative People's Party. His comments came after the Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel insisted Austria would not veto Czech EU membership over the Temelin issue. Austria has fiercely opposed the launch of Temelin since it went into test operation last year. The Czech government says the plant is safe, but Austria says Temelin's Soviet design remains a danger despite the addition of Western safety systems.
And operators at the plant shut down the reactor on Wednesday night after water was discovered leaking from a cooling-system component. A spokesman said the unscheduled shutdown of the plant's No. 1 reactor, which was brought up to 75 per cent capacity last week, was to begin late Wednesday night and last about three weeks. The spokesman described the problem as "a small leakage".
A Czech newspaper has quoted Interior Minister Stanislav Gross as saying that intelligence officials have more information than they can release publicly about meetings between suspected World Trade Centre terrorist Mohammed Atta and an Iraqi diplomat expelled from Prague in April. Speaking in an interview with the business daily Hospodarske Noviny on Wednesday, Mr Gross said he could not rule out the possibility that Atta may have been given anthrax spores during meetings with Iraqi diplomat and alleged spy Ahmad Samir al-Ani. Last week, Mr Gross confirmed rumours that Atta met al-Ani in Prague in April this year, amid speculation that Iraq is involved in the release of the anthrax bacteria in the United States. Iraqi officials have denied any involvement, and say al-Ani did not meet Mohammed Atta in Prague.
A defence official has confirmed that a Czech military transport plane is involved in the United States-led campaign against Taleban forces in Afghanistan. The official said a Czech air force Tu-154 transport plane was being used to supply U.S. AWACS radar planes, carrying material and personnel between Germany, Britain and France.
The acting Director General of Czech Television, Jiri Balvin, has been confirmed as the public television station's new head. Mr Balvin, who has run Czech Television since the crisis at the station ten months ago, was chosen by a supervisory body which is appointed by parliament. Ten of the 15 members supported Mr Balvin's appointment. The Czech Republic was plunged into a deep political crisis in December following the appointment of Mr Balvin's predecessor, Jiri Hodac. Journalists at the station occupied the newsroom in protest at Mr Hodac's appointment, which they said was politically motivated. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in support of the rebel journalists, until Mr Hodac was finally forced to step down.
Former astronaut Eugene Cernan returned home to the United States on Wednesday, three days after he and eleven others survived a helicopter crash in South Bohemia. Mr Cernan, a 67-year-old former astronaut best known as the last man to walk on the moon, flew home after two days in Prague's Central Military Hospital, where he was treated for minor injuries. Mr Cernan, who is of Czechoslovak origin, was on his way to a ceremony in a local village when the Czech Army helicopter came down. Doctors at the military hospital have also released Vladimir Remek, a 53-year-old former Czechoslovak cosmonaut who was also on board. Eight people remain in hospital. Investigators are still searching for clues as to what caused the accident, but officials confirmed on Wednesday that both engines suffered a sudden loss of power shortly before the crash.
Doctors treating President Vaclav Havel for bronchitis say a course of antibiotics has led to an improvement in his condition, and will decide soon whether to release him from hospital. A spokesman said Mr Havel, who has been in hospital for over a week, no longer had a temperature. The 65-year-old president was admitted to hospital last Tuesday suffering from chronic bronchitis, probably caused by a viral infection. His second and final term as Czech president ends in 2003.
And finally a look at the weather. Thursday will see a band of cold air moving in from the north-west, bringing with it a sharp drop in temperatures and some snow in mountainous areas. Daytime temperatures will reach a maximum of 11 degrees Celsius, falling at night to lows of two degrees.
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