And now the news in more detail.
The Czech cabinet has agreed to impose sanctions on Yugoslavia in line with recommendations made by the European Union. There will be a freeze in the export of raw materials and finished products which could be used in rebuilding bomb damage, flights to and from Yugoslavia will be discontinued and Yugoslav controlled financial funds will be blocked. On Wednesday the Czech cabinet also approved a historic amendment to the country's consitution. For the first time since the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, Czech troops will be able to serve abroad and foreign troops to be stationed on Czech territory without the decision having to be approved by both houses of parliament. The cabinet hopes that the amendment will bring an end to the long delays that have so far accompanied the decision-making process on the Kosovo crisis. Without consulting parliament the government will be able to send Czech troops to serve abroad for up to sixty days, although parliamentary approval will still be required beyond that period. Similar conditions will apply for foreign troops on Czech territory. The constitutional amendment will now be put before parliament for approval, and if passed will not come into full operation until the end of the year.
A-hundred-and-fifteen refugees from Kosovo have arrived in the Czech city of Ostrava from the Macedonian capital, Skopje, the first Kosovo refugees to be flown directly to the Czech Republic. They are currently at a reception centre where they are undergoing medical checks and their most urgent and immediate needs are being determined. They will then move on to specially established refugee hostels. The government recently gave assurances that it would be able to house a final figure of several thousand Kosovo refugees. A further two planes are expected to arrive over the next week. So far just under thirty thousand refugees of a total of 188 000 refugees have been airlifted from Macedonia.
Two lorry-loads of humanitarian aid have returned safely from Montenegro to the Czech Republic. A spokesman for the charity, Adra, said that the convoy had not met with any serious delays, and that the aid is now being distributed with the help of the Red Cross. The charity Adra is now raising money for a further convoy, which is to leave for the Balkans at the end of the week.
Continuing his state visit to North America, President Havel is to address both houses of the Canadian parliament later today. He is widely expected to reiterate his strong commitment to NATO's airstrikes against Yugoslavia, which have otherwise not been widely welcomed on the Czech political scene. On Wednesday President Havel was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Manitoba. In a speech to students he said that the time has come to place human rights above all other legal rights. He said that in Kosovo this has already been put into practice, as democratic states have decided that the human rights of the people of Kosovo are more important than the rights of sovereign Yugoslavia.
The Czech and Slovak Prime Ministers, Milos Zeman and Mikulas Dzurinda are meeting today to discuss regional cooperation and problems still remaining over the division of former Czechoslovak property. Under the previous Slovak government of Vladimir Meciar the property issue was a subject of tension, and there were few top-level contacts between the two countries. But the two current prime ministers have made a point of holding regular meetings.
The Czech government has given the go-ahead to a bill that is expected to make it harder for foreigners to enter the Czech Republic and be granted a residence permit. The current system of offering short-term, long-term and permanent residency will be replaced by a dual system of temporary or permanent permits. Any problems that arise in association with a foreign citizen's residency will be dealt with by the police rather than the interior ministry as has been the case up to now. The institution of temporary asylum will be reintroduced, which will be offered to foreign citizens escaping conflict in their home country. If the bill is ratified by parliament foreign citizens will also be obliged to prove they have health insurance for the entire period of their stay.
Trade unions representing miners in the North Bohemian town of Most have warned that workers at one of the largest mines in the region are prepared for strike action. The threat comes after the mainly state-controlled company that owns the pit announced that it would be closed at the end of the year, leaving over twelve hundred miners without a job. Union leaders added that before taking strike action they would be willing to discuss the issue with government representatives. Last year 250 million crowns were invested into modernising the pit, and it was expected to remain in operation for another fifteen to thirty years.
The upper house of the Czech parliament, the Senate, has approved a bill that will enable half a million hectares of state-owned land to be sold. The bill specifies that the land must be sold to Czech citizens or in some cases to institutions that already own buildings on the site. In such cases local authorities and universities will be entitled to the land without payment.
Environmental activists have installed a huge sculpture made of scrap metal outside the controversial Temelin nuclear power plant currently under construction. The five-metre high sculpture is entitled the "nuclear dinosaur" and a Greenpeace spokesman said it was intended as a symbol of the fate that awaits nuclear power. The sculpture will remain on the site only for a short while, and Greenpeace said that its next port of call will be in Slovakia.
The Czech petrochemicals giant, Chemopetrol Litvinov, has announced a substantial fall in profits for the first quarter of this year compared with the same period in 1998. The firm attributes the results to a general fall in the price of petrochemical products on world markets, which began last year and has continued in recent months despite a small rise in crude oil prices. Chemopetrol's exports remain at forty percent of total production, a similar figure to last year.
The upper house of the Czech parliament, the Senate, has voted not to deprive Senator Vaclav Benda of his parliamentary immunity from prosecution. The lawyer Kolja Kubicek had called for charges to be brought against Mr Benda in connection with Mr Benda's claims that the former Mayor of Vienna, Helmut Zilk had once been a spy for the Czechoslovak secret police. Mr Benda, who had previously headed the Office for the Investigation of Communist Crimes, was heavily criticised last year when he made public confidential documents that he said proved Mr Zilk had been a spy. A subsequent investigation failed to confirm the claims.
And I'll end with a quick look at the weather...
It's a bright and warm day with plenty of sunshine and afternoon temperatures are expected to reach 20 degrees Celsius. We can expect further warm weather on Friday, but by the weekend it will get colder with showers.
And that's the end of the news.
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