Hello and welcome to the programme. I'm AS and we start as usual with the headlines:
Cabinet - pensions
The cabinet has postponed its discussion about an increase of pensions by a week because of unclear calculation of inflation. It's on the basis of inflation that pensions are to be increased. Minister Vladimir Mlynar told reporters that the valorization of pensions will take place in July, as planned, but he didn't reveal whether it will be by the estimated 7,3 percent. Mlynar explained that the Labour ministry, which proposes pension increases, came out with a different estimate of this year's inflation than did the Finance ministry, the Czech national bank and the Czech statistical institute. All four institutions have been asked to arrive at a single estimate, and only then will the pension increases be determined.
Consumer prices in March went up - as compared with February - by 0.1 percent and by 13.4 percent when compared with March 1997. This brings the inflation rate over the past 12 months to 10 percent. The Czech statistical institute gave this information to the CTK news agency on Wednesday. According to the Institute, the development of price levels was influenced by a slight increase in prices of food, beverages and tobacco and by a decrease in prices of transport. The growth in food prices was mainly due to more expensive potatoes - up by 19 percent - and by a 1.2 percent increase in the price of alcoholic drinks. On the other hand, prices of fruit and meat were lower. /// The registered unemployment rate till March 31st was 5.5 percent, and compared to last month it dropped by 0.1 percent.
With a parliamentary debate about NATO membership coming up, a majority of Czechs are still in favor of the Czech Republic entering the alliance. According to an opinion poll conducted by the Public Opinion Research Institute at the end of February and the beginning of March, 54 percent of Czechs think their country should join, compared with 55 percent a month earlier. In the poll, for which 1 107 people were interviewed, the number of those opposed to NATO membership dropped from 26 to 24 percent, while the remainder were undecided. The House of deputies will meet in a special session next Tuesday to discuss ratification. Approval is expected, following the opposition Social democrats' decision to drop their demand for a referendum. Among Czech parliamentary parties, only the Communists and ultra-right Republicans are against joining NATO.
In its biannual report, the "Economic Outlook", the Organization for economic cooperation and development, OECD, predicts continuing weak economic growth in the Czech republic for 1998. The report stresses the need for limiting the budget deficit and speedy restructuralization, including the privatization of banks. Regarding the strict fiscal and currency policy, the activites of both the public and private sectors have slowed down. This was reflected in the unemployment rate, which this year will be 5.8 and next year 6.6 percent, the OECD predicts. Czech economists are not so sceptical, though.
Czech foreing minister Jaroslav Sedivy is on an official visit to Bulgaria on Thursday, the first ever visit by a Czech Foreign minister to Bulgaria after the fall of communism. Sedivy has been conducting talks with his Bulgarian counterpart Nadezda Mikhailova, and he will also be received by the Bulgarian president, premier and speaker of the parliament. The talks concern possibilities of intensifying mutual relations, especially in the economic sphere. Bulgarian president Petar Stojanov was in the Czech republic last year.
And finally a quick look at today's weather: it will be cloudy in the Czech republic today, with scattered rain shower, mainly in the Western part of the country, and the afternoon highs between 12 and 16 degrees Celsius.
And that's the end of the news.
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