Monday saw the beginning of a trial in Prague against five former Communist officials, charged with organising a campaign to force dissidents to flee the former Czechoslovakia. The former interior minister, Jaromir Obzina, and four other ministry officials are accused of abusing their power in the late 1970s and early 1980s when secret police used intimidation and violence against anti-Communist dissidents in a bid to force them to flee the country. Jan Srb, spokesman for the body which investigates Communist-era crimes, said Mr Obzina had launched the plan, nicknamed "Asanace" or "Clearance", after dissidents, including the current Czech President Vaclav Havel, signed the "Charter 77" human rights declaration. If found guilty, the four officials, who continue to maintain their innocence, could face up to ten years in prison.
The director of the country's smallest commercial TV station, Jan Martinek, told journalists on Monday that the management had been forced to fire some 60% of the station's staff. TV3 was forced off the air on December 6th, following orders from the Radio and Television Council. The timing coincides by controversial plans by the license-holder, Martin Kindernay, to re-launch the station without the foreign investor, EMV. Mr Martinek said that TV3 was left with some 40 workers but could resume broadcasts at any time. Those who tune in to TV 3 are now met with a written text explaining that broadcasting has been halted upon orders of the Czech Radio and Television Council.
The Czech Defence Minister, Jaroslav Tvrdik, said on Monday that Czech air force pilots as well as ground forces would be invited to visit Great Britain for training if the country goes ahead with the purchase of Jas-39 Gripen fighter jets from the British-Swedish consortium, BAE-Saab. Mr Tvrdik was speaking to journalists after meeting British Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon, who began a two-day official trip to Prague on Monday. According to the Czech Defence Minister, Mr Hoon had expressed great interest in the tender. Mr Hoon said the Gripen fighter fully met the Czech Republic's requirements. Mr Hoon and his Czech counterpart also discussed reform of the Czech army and the international campaign against terrorism.
The Czech Republic's chief negotiator with the European Union, Pavel Telicka, has said he expects his country to close 24 of the 29 chapters of EU legislation by the end of this year. The Czech Republic has so far closed 22 out of the 29 chapters. Speaking to journalists on Monday, Mr Telicka said that the energy and the justice and interior affairs chapters will be discussed in Brussels next week. He remained optimistic about closing them by December 31st, saying that in the case of the justice chapter, Prague had asked for no transition periods. As far as the energy chapter was concerned, only two transition periods have been requested in the area of the strategic supply of oil and the liberalisation of the gas market.
Austria's President, Thomas Klestil, has described Thursday's compromise over the Czech Republic's Temelin nuclear power plant as an important first step. Mr Klestil said he was still against Temelin going into commercial operation, but explained he was equally against Austria vetoing the Czech Republic's membership of the European Union - a step supported by the junior partner in the ruling coalition. The far-right Freedom Party has been lobbying strongly against Temelin, insisting on launching a nationwide petition next month to call for a veto. Enlarging the Union, Mr Klestil said, was in the interests of Austria and all of Europe.
The Czech contingent of the SFOR international peace-keeping force is ending its mission to Bosnia- Herzegovina. The head of the Czech army's fifth mechanised battalion, Antonin Vicha, officially closed down the battalion's headquarters in the Bosnian village of Donja Ljubija early on Monday morning. Czech soldiers begun their mission in Bosnia in 1996 as part of the IFOR peacekeeping force. They were first deployed to help uphold the terms of the Dayton peace agreement, and became part of the SFOR mission several months later. A total of nine Czech soldiers have died in Bosnia since 1996. On November 29th, the Czech Senate approved the withdrawal of the 600 Czech SFOR troops, and the last soldiers will leave the region by the second week of December.
The Prague-based U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has announced that it plans to expand its broadcasts to Central Asia. The station's President, Thomas Dine, said that the next two months would see broadcasts in Azerbaijani, Turkmen, Kyrgyz, Tajik, Uzbek, Kazakh and Farsi languages - many of which are spoken in Afghanistan - extended by a total of 20 hours. Mr Dine added that Radio Free Iraq in Arabic is also to be extended. RFE/RL spokesperson, Sonia Winter, said the planned extensions would not interfere with the launch of Radio Free Afghanistan in the Afghan languages of Pashto and Dari.
And finally a quick look at the weather forecast. Tuesday is expected to have overcast skies with occasional showers. Day-time temperatures in Bohemia shall range between 0 and 4 degrees Celsius and between -1 and 3 degrees Celsius in Silesia and Moravia. Tuesday night will be much the same, with temperatures between -2 and 2 degrees Celsius. Wednesday is expected to have overcast skies with occasional showers and snow in places and with day-time temperatures in Bohemia between 2 and 6 degrees Celsius and between 0 and 4 degrees Celsius in Silesia and Moravia.
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