After 11 hours of talks in Brussels Czech and Austrian leaders have reached agreement in a dispute over safety at the Czech Republic's Temelin nuclear power plant. Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman and Austria's Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel emerged from negotiations on Thursday evening with a deal brokered by the European Union. Prague agreed to introduce stricter safety measures at the plant, while Vienna agreed not to block the Czech Republic's energy talks with the European Union. The terms of the agreement will be legally binding, and will be approved by the remaining 14 members of the EU. The Czech Republic can now expect to close the energy chapter, the last serious obstacle in the country's negotiations on joining the EU.
Correspondents say there were clear signs of relief on the faces of all those involved in Thrusday's meeting. The EU's Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen, who mediated the talks, told reporters the agreement had ended the blockade of the accession process, and had ensured the Czech Republic's sovereign right to choose its own energy policy. Chancellor Schuessel described the agreement as "an example of good neighbourliness" in Europe, while Prime Minister Zeman said the deal was a "very reasonable compromise".
Police in Prague have arrested one of Uzbekistan's leading opposition figures, who they say is wanted by Interpol. Salai Madaminov, who uses the pseudonym Mukhammed Salikh, is now in police custody after being arrested at Prague's Ruzyne Airport on Wednesday. Mr Salikh, who lives in exile in Norway, had been invited to Prague by the U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe. Last year he was sentenced in absentia to 15 years in prison, after being found guilty of a bomb attack in the Uzbek capital Tashkent, in which 16 people were killed. He denies the charges. The Radio Free Europe spokeswoman warned on Thursday that Mr Salikh faces certain death if the Czech Republic extradites him to Uzbekistan.
The commander of the Czech air force has grounded the L-39 and MiG-21 military aircraft because of technical problems. A Defence Ministry spokesman said the order had been issued while investigators examine reports that the aircraft had been issued with faulty altimeters. The Interior Ministry has launched a criminal investigation into claims that some equipment supplied to the Czech Air Force was faulty. The L-39 Albatros is a training aircraft; the MiG-21 is a Russian-made fighter jet.
A Czech court has sentenced an 80-year-old former police agent from the Communist era to two years in jail and five years on probation for torturing political prisoners in the 1950s. Reports said Vladimir Zavadilik, a former investigator for Czechoslovakia's notorious secret police, the StB, still maintained his innocence. Officials said Mr Zavadilik was one of several former StB investigators who managed to avoid efforts to prosecute officials from the Communist era.
And the Justice Minister Jaroslav Bures has sacked the state attorney in the southern town of Breclav, following a recent case in which a local priest was charged with extremist offences after warning parishioners not to vote for the Communist Party. State attorney Drahomira Cisarova was sacked after the Communists successfully filed criminal charges against Father Vojtech Protivinsky, who warned members of his parish not to believe Communist ideology. President Vaclav Havel later intervened and halted the legal proceedings against Father Protivinsky, but the conduct of the police and state attorney was heavily criticised.
The Czech central bank slashed key interest rates to all-time lows on Thursday, in line with recent rate-cuts by the European Central Bank and similar institutions in central and eastern Europe. Analysts say the measures are designed to protect the region in the face of a weakening global economy. The central bank cut the overnight discount rate for commercial bank loans by one-half percent, to 3.75 percent. It is the first time the rate has ever dipped below 4 per cent. The bank also lowered the two-week repo rate to 4.75 per cent, from 5.25 per cent, and cut the Lombard rate to 5.75 per cent, from 6.25 per cent.
The Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski was forced to cancel a one-day official visit to the Czech Republic on Thursday when fog in Warsaw prevented the departure of his jet. Mr Kwasniewski was due to meet the Czech President Vaclav Havel in Prague. Instead, the presidents held a telephone conference on bilateral issues linked with European Union enlargement and NATO's eastward expansion. Both Poland and the Czech Republic are in negotiations to join the European Union in 2004.
The French drinks giant Pernod Ricard has agreed to buy the Czech government's controlling stake in the Jan Becher company, which makes the country's unique herbal liqueur Becherovka. A spokeswoman for the Czech state privatisation bureau said that Salb - Ricard's Czech subsidiary - had signed a deal to buy Jan Becher for the asking price of 1.4 billion crowns, or around 37 million dollars. Becherovka's best-known fan is the Czech Prime Minister, Milos Zeman.
And finally a look at the weather. Friday will be overcast, with rain and snow in places, and temperatures in the daytime reaching a maximum of five degrees Celsius. Friday night will be cold, with the thermometer dropping to minus seven degrees in places. The weekend will see more wet and overcast weather, with snow in mountain areas. Temperatures at the weekend will range from three degrees in the daytime to minus seven.
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