Cabinet approves aid to Kosovans
The Czech Cabinet is meeting today to give its formal approval to humanitarian aid plans for Kosovo. The plans include the donation of a field hospital to Albania which has taken the brunt of the refugee exodus and is now struggling to cope with 260,000 refugees, more emergency food supplies to be airlifted in coordination with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and temporary shelter for Kosovo Albanians in the Czech Republic. So far only around 400 Kosovo Albanians have asked for refugee status in the Czech Republic . The government has offered to take in several hundred more. Vice-premier Egon Lansky who will be flying out to Tirana in a few hours time said the Cabinet had opted to donate a field hospital since the plan to send out and operate a field hospital, which is still on, is linked to the presence of a peacekeeping force in the region and cannot be undertaken on a separate basis.
The Cabinet is likewise scheduled to discuss a bill which would ban the production, stockpiling and use of land mines on Czech territory. The government's legislative council has urged Cabinet to approve the bill. The Czech Republic signed the Ottawa convention banning land mines last year and needs to incorporate the decision into its legal system. The Czech armed forces destroyed the last of their land mines back in 1997. The Ottawa Convention has been signed by 132 states, of which 32 have ratified it. However several military powers are still wavering - among them the United States, Russia, China and Israel.
Austrian experts are to help the Czech environment ministry to compile a report on the safety risks of the Temelin nuclear power plant under construction. Czech environment minister Milos Kuzvart said after a meeting with his Austrian counterpart Martin Bartenstein that the Austrian side had rational and very convincing arguments which the Czech government should have at its disposal when deciding Temelin's fate. The report is to be put before Cabinet by April 25th and it should reach a final decision in May.
The Christian Democratic Party has publicly apologized for one of its deputies insulting remarks about gays. Deputy Pavel Tollner evoked outrage in the Lower House during a debate on same-sex registered partnerships when he described gays and lesbians as perverts and accused the media of a dangerous pro-gay campaign.
A delegation of the International Monetary Fund has begun a ten day fact finding mission to the Czech Republic. Its main areas of interest are the state of the financial sector and progress made in restructuring of the industry. The latter is considered of much greater importance than achieving a certain financial stability, which according to the IMF most states-in-transition have already managed to do.
Environmentalists are striving to curb what they have termed the illegal plundering of the country's forests. Environmental watchdogs are complaining that many of the new owners who have had large strips of forest land restituted fell the trees, grab the money, sell the land and run - caring nothing for the damage to the biosphere. According to Czech law the owners of forest land need to ask permission to do this, and if they want to fell they are often requested to re-plant new forests. However this law is frequently violated and the small fines which the authorities can set are ludicrous weighed against the profits.
It has been announced by the president's office that after their five day visit to the United States President Havel and the first lady are to pay a three day visit to Canada , starting April 28th, at the invitation of governor Romeo LeBlanc. A Prague Castle spokesman said the President would want to thank Canada for actively supporting the Czech Republic's admission to NATO and discuss the bilateral problems presented by the Czech Romany exodus to Canada.
Vice-premier for the economy Pavel Mertlik is on a three day working visit to France where he is to meet with the OECD Secretary General Donald Johnston, the French minister for economy, finance and trade Dominique Strauss-Kahn and attend a seminar of the Czech Republic held in the French Senate .
No significant change is expected there. Wednesday should bring partly cloudy to overcast skies with scattered showers and day temps between 11 and 15 degs C. Nighttime lows between 9 and 5 degs.
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