Those were the headlines and now the news in more detail
The Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary will officially become members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization sometime in March of this year, according to NATO Secretary General Javier Solana. No firm date has yet been set but according to an unnamed NATO official the final technical issues are now being resolved and admission could take place in the first weeks of March. A ceremony to mark the entry of the three frontrunners is to be held in Washington at a summit of NATO heads of state and government on April 24th and 25th. On Tuesday, the Czech Republic's ambassador to NATO Karel Kovanda and his Polish and Hungarian counterparts took part in an informal weekly dinner of NATO ambassadors in Brussels. Kovanda welcomed the invitation as a "sign of acceptance". According to an unnamed NATO source, more decisions are made at these dinners than at the official Council of NATO sessions following them.
The Czech government's budget proposal for 1999 has gone into its second reading in the Lower House of Parliament. Several parties intend to propose amendments and it will not be clear until the last minute who, other than the 74 deputies for the governing Social Democrats, will support the budget proposal. It envisages a 31 billion crown deficit. The communist party recently created a stir by promising support in exchange for significantly lower defense expenditures. The ODS has described this as blackmail and said that it would not allow the communists to threaten the country's membership in NATO even if it had to compromise on the budget. So far only the Freedom Union has clearly stated it would vote against the proposal. Observers say they expect a vote towards the end of the week.
Visiting British deputy home secretary Mike O'Brien has severely criticized conditions in which Czech Romanies are living. After visiting a Roma housing estate in the Moravian city of Brno O'Brien said it was poverty rather than persecution which was forcing many Roma to leave the country and seek asylum elsewhere. He said he had found families living in squalor and called on the Czech government to do everything in its power to rectify the situation. The British deputy home secretary is here on a three day fact finding mission in connection with the exodus of Czech Romanies to Britain last year.
Meanwhile, the mayor of Usti nad Labem, the city where local authorities planned to build a wall to separate a Roma housing estate from its Czech neighbours, has called the governments intention to prevent this " ridiculous meddling". Mayor Miroslav Harcinik said the government had no right to interfere with decisions which were made at local level and claimed the construction of the wall was not in violation of any existing legislation. The locals support this view and many of those living in the vicinity say that if the government prevents the construction of this wall it should also give them a good price for their houses since they would no longer wish to live there and without the wall they would not find buyers.
The Iraqi consul to Prague is believed to be seeking political asylum in Great Britain. Dzabir Salim has not been seen in Prague for over a month, causing intense speculation. A spokesman for the Iraqi National Congress, a London based opposition organization, told the ctk that although he could not officially confirm the news he had good reason to believe that Dzabir Salim was now in London seeking asylum. The spokesman mr. Zaab Setna said the Prague consul was not an important figure in Saddam Hussein's camp and his defection would not seriously threaten the regime. British authorities have refused to comment on the matter in any way. According to Iraqi opposition sources Dabir Salim was to have spearheaded Iraq's campaign against Prague-based Radio Free Europe broadcasts to Iraq.
The head of the Office for Investigation of Communist Crimes Irenej Kratochvil said at a press briefing in Prague Tuesday that the interior ministry inspection team had found certain irregularities in the work of the office and that a number of employees would be dismissed in the near future. He would not expand on this, although he said that he was preparing a major overhaul of the OICC. The Cabinet ordered an inspection following a series of information leaks.
A Drop In House party organized in protest of the newly introduced law on drugs is to take place at the Roxy Club in Prague this Friday. DJs from across the country will take part in the 10 hour music marathon and the proceeds are to go to Drop In prevention centres. The drugs problem concerns predominantly teenagers which was why we chose house music, the organizers told the ctk newsagency. The new legislation, which has made possession of drugs a criminal offense, has caused considerable controversy. Ivan Douda, an employee of one of Prague's Drop In centres says it is an all out war - but not against dealers. This war is being waged against teenagers who need help or those who are merely experimenting, he told the ctk.
No significant change there. We can expect more grey skies and snow showers in the next 48 hours. Day temps between minus 3 and 1 degs C. Nighttime lows 4 to 8 degs below zero.
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