Hello and welcome to the programme. I'm AS and we start with the news:
The Czech Republic's gross domestic product in the second quarter of 1998 dropped by 2.4 percent compared with the same period last year, which makes it 1.7 percent lower in the first six months of this year than it was in the first half of 1997. The Czech Statistical Office has also revealed that prices have gone up by nearly 40 percent since 1994. Economists cite as main reasons behind this year's poor economic performance the growth of the value added tax in the processing industries, lower investments in the building industry and stagnating trade. Also, there was a dramatic slump in household consumption, which dropped by 7 percent from the end of March.
The Iraqi official newspaper Al-Dzhumhuria has called upon the Czech cabinet not to grant the U.S. wish and start broadcasts of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty to Iraq from Czech territory. According to the AFP agency, the paper pointed out that "good relations between the two countries had prevailed even before the split-up of Czechoslovakia. Iraq intends to develop these relations by tangible means, and Czech politicians are well aware of this," writes the daily, adding that although it's up to the Czech Republic to make an independent decision, it is not possible to harm Iraq by illogical activities aimed at looking good in America's eyes. Czech premier Milos Zeman told journalists last weekend that the matter would be discussed by the cabinet at one of its regular sessions, but did not specify the date. Meanwhile, Foreign minister Jan Kavan told a press conference on Monday he hoped the cabinet would meet the US request, although it is likely to cause deterioration in relations between the Czech Republic and Iraq.
President Vaclav Havel starts a 5-day official visit to the United States on Tuesday. The president, who left hospital at the end of last month after intestinal surgery, has been pronounced fit and well enough to set out on a journey. Havel's personal physician Ilja Kotik said on Monday that the president is fully recovered after his operation and that tests show the infection has disappeared. Kotik added that even the cold and wet weather has not influenced the president's health. Havel's programme in the United states has been planned to enable him exercise three times a day. Czech ambassador to the United States, Alexander Vondra, told Czech radio on Tuesday that although Havel is coming to the States at a time when president Clinton's position on the domestic political scene is unfavourable, he believes the visit will be successful.
The latest opinion-poll, carried out in September by the STEM polling agency, shows that the Czech Social democratic party retains its position of the strongest political force in the country, enjoying support from 29.1 percent of respondents. When compared with the results of last June's parliamentary elections, the approval ratings of the Civic democratic party led by ex-premier Vaclav Klaus have dropped - only 22.9 percent of those polled would give it their votes. In contrast to this, the Communists would receive slightly more support - 11.3 percent. The Christian democrats would have one percent less. If elections were held in September, the ultra right Republican party would again not make it to the parliament, with support from less then 3 percent of voters.
The Czech cabinet will hold another session to discuss the draft of the 1999 state budget - at the Kolodeje castle near Prague on September 22nd. Its spokesman Libor Roucek told this to the CTK news agency on Monday. Roucek said the government would focus on specifying the "parametres" of the draft budget, which envisages a deficit of almost 27 billion Czech crowns. According to Finance minister Ivo Svoboda, the deficit is to be covered by issuing state bonds. Deputy premier in charge of economic matters, Pavel Mertlik, told the CTK agency that the economy in the Czech Republic is in a deep and swiftly accelerating recession, caused by strongly restrictive fiscal and monetary policies.
And finally the weather forecast for Tuesday: Cold air will be coming from the north-west, and so we expect cloudy skies with occasional rain showers, and daytime highs between 12 and 16 degrees Celsius.
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