Daily news summary News Sunday, FEBRUARY 22nd, 1998

22-02-1998

Radio Prague E-News date: February 21, 1998 written/read by: Libor Kubik The funeral has been held in the Czech Republic of the latest victim of racial violence against the Gypsy ethnic minority.

A Czech political party suspends the membership of two ranking officials over a funding scandal.

And a new Czech right-of-centre party mulls a coalition of allied political subjects.

These are the top stories from Prague. Now the news in more detail, read by Libor Kubik.

GYPSY-VICTIM-FUNERAL

A Gypsy mother of four, who died in a racist attack in North Bohemia last week, was buried on Saturday in her native town of Opava. The 26-year-old woman was severely beaten by three skinheads last Sunday and then thrown into a river where she drowned despite efforts by a passer-by Czech Radio presenter to rescue her from the rapid-flowing icy water.

The funeral of Helena Bihariova was attended by a crowd of 500 people, in addition to President Havel's wife Dagmar and government minister without portfolio Vladimir Mlynar.

The First Lady, who laid flowers at the murdered woman's grave, promised Roma activists to communicate their wish to the president that he help prevent similar racist crimes in the future.

Minister Mlynar said the young woman was killed by Czech racists. He asked those present not to seek the death of the three skinheads, who had been taken into custody. The crowd chanted "Death to the killers."

The death penalty does not exist in the Czech Republic.

The dead woman's family said they would seek political asylum abroad.

GYPSY-TOWN-PROTEST

In Beroun west of Prague, a group of Gypsies demanded on Saturday that the Czech state admit its inability to protect Romanies from racist violence and pay them to emigrate with sufficient means.

The crowd raised clenched fists in a defiant tribute to the murdered Gypsy woman.

CZECH-PARTY-SCANDAL

The Prague organisation of the small centre-right Civic Democratic Alliance, the ODA, on Saturday called on two of its senior officials to suspend their membership until they clean themselves of accusations of having been auxiliary to a sponsorship scandal affecting the future of their party.

The two men are the former trade and industry minister Vladimir Dlouhy and party vice chairman Miroslav Toser.

Dlouhy is reported to have been implicated in financial irregularities connected with a cover-up company operating from the Virgin Islands. Mr Toser is said to have worked closely with a businessman who said earlier this month the ODA had coerced him into paying sponsorship money under the threat of losing a privatised department store. Toser said he would not comply with the party decision.

The ODA's chairman Jiri Skalicky resigned late last week because he had been unable to clarify his party's scandals. He also resigned as deputy premier and environment minister.

On Friday, Justice Minister Vlasta Parkanova left the ODA which she described as a party of profiteers. The ODA also lost its spokesman.

The ODA's approval ratings four months ahead of June's early elections continue to dwindle.

CZECH-RIGHT-COOPERATION

Jan Ruml, the leader of the newly founded right-of-centre Freedom Union, on Saturday called for cooperation with former members of ex-premier Vaclav Klaus's Civic Democratic Party and other people with rightist leanings. But he said the union should not be led by people compromised by their activities in the former coalition government.

Speaking at the union's first national convention in Nymburk, Ruml said his party was not seeking a pre-election coalition of the right. But he said his party would work together with other right-of-centre groups after June's elections.

He was reacting to the overtures of Christian Democrat leader Josef Lux, who has decried the Freedom Union as a natural ally of his party.

GEORGIA-CZECH-STANDOFF

A standoff between Georgian troops and gunmen holding four U.N. military observers, one of them Czech, dragged into its third day on Saturday but all hostages appeared in good health, according to reporters.

About a dozen gunmen seized the observers near Dzikhashkari in western Georgia on Thursday. The gunmen said they were backers of Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze's late rival, Zviad Gamsakhurdia.

The Czech captive, Lieutenant-Colonel Jaroslav Kulisek, on Saturday told a Reuters Television crew allowed inside the besieged terrorist hideout that the captors had showed the best example of hospitality, given the circumstances.

The gunmen had said they would exchange the hostages for the men arrested after a recent attempt on Shevardnadze's life.

CZECH-POLICE-SEMTEX

Czech police said on Saturday they found 35 kilograms of plastic explosive, believed to be Semtex, and arrested two men in the eastern town of Uherske Hradiste on Friday.

Detectives from the organised crime unit arrested a 31-year- old man after 17.5 kilos of plastic explosive had been discovered in his car.

Just 15 minutes later, a 50-year-old man was arrested with a further 18 kilos of explosives and 15 detonators. The police said the man intended to sell the explosive.

Semtex, a Czech-made colourless, odourless explosive intended for excavation and demolition but often used by terrorists, is now marked for easier detection by security devices.

And that's the end of the news.

22-02-1998