These are the main points and now the news in more detail.
Senior opposition Civic Democratic Party leader Vaclav Klaus suspects that the Social Democrat government has made "advance payments" from the 1998 state budget. The 1998 budget, which was compiled as balanced by Klaus's former right-wing cabinet, ended with a deficit of over 26 billion crowns. Klaus said he was embarrassed at the sharp increase in the deficit over the last month of 1998. He hinted that Zeman's government may have made advance payments in December for the next year so that they can say that the money was drawn from the old budget which they had not compiled. In November, the budget showed a deficit of 2.2 billion crowns but in December, the deficit rose to over 26 billion.
Former chairman of the Czech National Property Fund Roman Ceska is considering filing a lawsuit in connection with the Czech Telecom case. Ceska denied he had ever accepted a bribe and stressed he was prepared to sue anyone accusing him of doing so. Dutch TV KRO reported on alleged bribery during the privatisation process of Czech Telecom, in which the Dutch company TelSource gained a large stake. According to former employees of the KPN company, which is part of the TelSource consortium, the company bribed politicians and civil servants in post-communist countries.
The new chancellor of the Presidential Office, Ivo Mathe, is planning a reorganisation of the office, including personnel changes. Mathe, who has been in the post since the beginning of the year, says that senior officials should retain their posts. Mathe said he was consulting the changes with his predecessor Ivan Medek who headed the office for several years until the end of 1998.
President Vaclav Havel had expected reactions to his New Year's message from other politicians, so he was not surprised by their reserved comments, Havel's spokesman Ladislav Spacek told reporters. In his speech, Havel criticised the building of new walls between people which he said was caused by a lack of respect for human rights, and different cultures. While representatives of the Christian Democrats, the Freedom Union and the Civic Democratic Alliance agreed with Havel, lower house speaker and Civic Democrat leader Vaclav Klaus described Havel's speech as too general and said that he would have preferred more concrete criticism of negative aspects among the Czech society.
A Czech-North American Chamber of Commerce has been established in Atlanta, Georgia. Its task will be to support mutual trade between the Czech Republic and the United States, Canada and Mexico. According to the Czechtrade agency, the chamber is planning to spread its activities to all the member countries of the North American Free Trade Area.
The government is considering a 10-percent increase of the unemployment benefits and changes in the law on employment. Unemployment benefits should thus return to levels of 1997 when they were cut as one the austerity measures adopted by the cabinet. The changes proposed by the cabinet also include the strengthening of trade unions' powers in negotiations with employers. Another measure would be a more restrictive policy of granting working permits to foreigners. The amendments, if passed by parliament, would become effective on July 1st next year.
A newly-established Human Rights Council is to hold its first meeting today. The eleven-member council has been set up by the Czech government envoy for human rights Petr Uhl and comprises both representatives of state bodies and public figures who have been working in this field for many years. The Human Rights Council's task is to suggest changes in the legislation in order to improve human rights legislation.
Czech investment funds and companies were profitable in 1998. The Czech Statistical office announced that they created a combined gross profit of almost 6 billion crowns - although this figure was two billion crowns less than in the previous year. On the other hand, Czech banks including the Czech National Bank recorded a loss of over 43 billion crowns as compared to a 35-billion profit in 1997.
And finally, a brief look at the weather. A warm front which has been moving across central Europe from the South-West will bring another wave of relatively warm air. We are expecting a partially cloudy day with occasional showers. Afternoon highs should range from 9 to 12 degrees Celsius. Wednesday and Thursday should be much the same, partially cloudy, with highest daytime temperatures around 10 degrees Celsius.
And that's the end of the news.
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