And now the news in more detail.
The Czech Republic has sent a field hospital to Albania to help the country cope with the influx of over two hundred thousand Kosovo refugees. The government approved the decision on Wednesday morning, and the equipment for the hospital left almost immediately by military plane. It is accompanied by a three-person team, who will spend two weeks showing Albanian personnel how to run the hospital. The Czech Republic has also promised to supply a military field hospital, including personnel, for use by NATO forces in the region, along with an unarmed AN-26 military aircraft. However, the Foreign Minister Jan Kavan pointed out that this decision will still have to be ratified by parliament, probably at a special sitting.
Two lorries carrying aid for Kosovo refugees have left the Czech Republic for Albania. The consignment includes food, blankets and medicines worth one-and-a-half million crowns, brought together thanks to donations to Czech charities and support from private firms. City councillors in the town of Ceske Budejovice have also urged local authorities throughout the country to offer financial support for refugees.
As the Kosovo refugee crisis continues to escalate, the Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan has said that the Czech Republic would be willing to host up to five thousand refugees. But he warned that currently the country only has the facilities for around seventeen hundred. A Czech Interior Ministry spokeswoman said that if the Czech Republic were currently to admit more than a few hundred refugees, they would have to be housed in tents. Senators from the opposition Freedom Union and Civic Democratic Alliance on Wednesday accused the government of not doing enough to help their plight.
The Russian Ambassador in the Czech Republic, Nikolai Ryabov, has said that the conflict in Kosovo will not be allowed to become an issue during Prime Minister Milos Zeman's visit to Moscow later this month. He said that the freeze in Russia's relations with NATO does not affect the country's ties with individual NATO members. At the same time he acknowledged that the Kosovo crisis will inevitably be an issue hovering in the background during Mr Zeman's talks in Moscow. In a separate development the Czech car manufacturers Skoda have received a letter from Russian firms selling Skoda cars in the Russian Federation, saying that they are no longer interested in cooperating with the Czech firm, in protest against Czech NATO membership and support for air-strikes in Yugoslavia.
The Czech cabinet has rejected a proposal put forward by the government ... for human rights Petr Uhl, under which the state would have bought and moved a pig-farm currently on the site of the Second World War Romany internment camp in Lety in South Bohemia. Several hundred Romanies died in the camp, and many were sent on to Auschwitz. The pig farm was built on the site in 1974, and there has been growing pressure for it to be removed. The cabinet said that it simply could not afford the millions of crowns that would be needed to move the farm, but it promised to work towards creating a more dignified memorial at Lety.
As the recession in the Czech economy continues, the North Bohemian steelworks Zelezarny Chomutov has announced losses of ten million crowns for the first quarter of this year, despite healthy profits for the same period in 1998. The management pointed to a serious decline in markets and production. Seventy employees of the plant face redundancy at the end of June, and the managing director said that forthwith the entire plant will stand idle for one week every month in the hope of reducing expenses.
The Dutch-Swiss consortium TelSource which owns a third of the Czech terrestrial tecommunications monopoly, SPT Telecom has announced ambitious plans to create a powerful Central European force in the industry, in preparation for liberalization of the Czech telecommunications market in 2001. The chairman of TelSource's board of directors warned that in its current form SPT Telecom will not be able to survive in a free market. He added that Telecom will inevitably have to join forces with one of the global telecommunications alliances. TelSource has expressed an interest in increasing its share in SPT Telecom, but this will depend on the conditions under which the government decides to continue the firm's privatisation.
The head of the Interior Ministry's section for European integration, Bretislav Kalusek, has warned that the Czech-Slovak customs union, that came into being after the split of Czechoslovakia seven years ago, will probably have to be scrapped if the Czech Republic is to become a member of the European Union. He said the EU has made it clear it is not keen on accepting Prague's official request for the union to be preserved. He added that the union has been sustained mainly for political reasons, as a way of stressing that the Czech Republic and Slovakia would prefer to join the EU at the same time as a single trade block.
In a blow to Czech national pride a court in the Slovak town of Nitra has ruled that the Slovak firm Simpex Plus can continue making and selling its own version of the most famous Czech liqueur - Becherovka. The ruling is the latest episode in a row that began last year when the Slovak firm announced it planned to produce the herbal liqueur and held documents to prove it owned the trade mark and recipe. The Czech producers, Jan Becher of Karlovy Vary, took them to court, calling for a temporary freeze on production of the Slovak liqueur while the case was examined. Now following the court's rejection of this request, the Czech firm remains defiant, saying that it will appeal to a higher court. It has also made more serious allegations that the documents owned by its Slovak rivals are forgeries.
And a glance at the weather...
Thursday is a fair bit colder than the last few days with showers and temperatures between 8 and 12 degrees Celsius. And we can expect it to remain showery into the weekend.
And I'll end with a quick glance at some things coming up in the Czech Republic today, Thursday 8th April:
the Foreign Minister Jan Kavan will be holding a special press conference this morning to discuss the situation in Yugoslavia, the United Nations' special envoy for human rights in the former Yugoslavia, Jiri Dienstbier, will be leaving Prague to map out the refugee situation in Macedonia, and the Yugoslav embassy in Prague will itself be holding a press conference on the conflict.
And that's the end of the news.
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