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Vol 3, No 12
26 March 2001
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Czech newsNews from the
Czech Republic

All the important news
since 17 March 2001

Mark Preskett


GDP figures surprise even optimists

Most economists would agree that 2000 was a good year for the Czech economy. After three years of negative growth (1997 to 1999) and gross domestic product (GDP) reaching a low of -3.9 percent in 1999, economic figures have been steadily improving. On Thursday, the Czech Statistical Office (ČSÚ) reported overall GDP for 2000 at +3.1 percent. This exceeded even the most optimistic expectations.

View today's updated headlines from the Czech Republic and Slovakia

Czech Prime Minister Miloš Zeman was understandably pleased with the news. "I think that the growth is healthy and will continue," he said. He added that GDP figures for 2001 could reach four percent.

According to the Czech daily, Lidové noviny, the strengthening of the economy was due in large part to the influx of foreign investment. Attracting foreign investment has been one of the main goals of the Zeman administration. The construction of new factories and business investment also promoted growth in the service, industry and commerce sectors.

While many economists welcomed the news, others voiced reservations about the released figures. Irena Vetešníková from Raiffeisen Capital & Investment warned, "The Czech economy is very susceptible to what is happening in the rest of the world, and could, at moment's notice, sink back into stagnation." She also expressed concern about the fall in domestic demand and its impact on the already large budget deficit.


Temelín restarts

After a ten-day shutdown for repairs, the Temelín nuclear power plant located in South Bohemia just 50 kilometres from the Austrian border was restarted on Sunday. Two days later, Temelín's output was raised to 55 percent of its 1000 megawatt capacity. This was the highest level recorded since the plant's launch late last year.

Temelín has been a thorn in recent Austro-Czech relations. Anti-nuclear activists claim that the Russian-designed power station fails to meet strict international safety norms despite having a modern US-designed safety system. As a result, activists have organised a number of demonstrations and blockades at border crossings between the two countries. Their claims have been fuelled by repeated shutdowns at Temelín due to technical failures.

On Tuesday, American lawyer Ed Fagan, who has agreed to represent the Austrian anti-nuclear activists free-of-charge, visited the plant for the first time. In an interview with the Czech daily, Mladá fronta Dnes, Fagan seemed typically upbeat. "Those who argued in the past that I didn't have a chance, lost," he said, in reference to his effort to gain compensation from Germany for Holocaust victims.

Following an inspection tour of Temelín, Fagan gave the Czech power utility, ČEZ, an additional 30 days to hand over documents relating to safety at the nuclear power plant or face legal action. ČEZ again responded that they had released as much information as possible without compromising trade secrets.


First CJD case?

Although there are no testing facilities in the Czech Republic sophisticated enough to detect Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), the human equivalent of mad cow disease (BSE), doctors suspect that a patient may have died from CJD earlier this week. This is the first such case reported in the country. At present, the Czech Republic has a total ban on all beef products coming from eleven member states of the European Union.

Otakar Černý, spokesman for the Ministry of Health, stated that the Ministry cannot confirm whether the patient died from CJD until the results of a full autopsy are released. Employees at the Thomayerová hospital, where all suspected cases are brought for examination, argue, however, that nothing can be proved until the Ministry provides between CZK seven to nine million to build a new laboratory specialising in the disease.


Pretty in pink

The famous Czech designer, David Černý, has stirred the emotions of many this week with his latest creation—a pink tank. The tank, with its front buried in the ground and its back in the air, is a replica of the famous no 23 tank, a symbol of the end of World War Two and a reminder of the fall of totalitarianism.

The Russian embassy was the first to call for the installation's removal. On Wednesday, Prime Minister Miloš Zeman added his weight to the criticism. In a letter to Černý he wrote, "it is only an arrogant, ill-conceived demonstration of the mentality of the graffiti generation, who totally lack any empathy with history."

Mr Černý reacted by saying that he only wanted to show that the current mood is a long way from that of the fall of totalitarianism. He added that "no one has actually seen it and everyone is protesting."

Mr Zeman's words had a dramatic effect in Prague 5, where the tank has been installed. Less than 24 hours after Zeman commented on the display, the district's mayor, Miroslav Škaloud, stated that, "there are many works of art in Prague that I don't like, but I would not argue against the worth of this design." The Prague 5 council told the press. "We don't want the tank anymore!"


Going, going...

The sale of the state share in Český radiokomunikací (ČR), which broadcasts the signal for radio and television transmissions throughout the Czech Republic, will not break the bank as forecasted by the government.

According to the Czech daily Lidové noviny only two firms have expressed an interest in purchasing shares—the Danish firm TeleDanmark, and the American firm Crown Castle. Both companies have made provisional offers of around CZK 600 a share, which total CZK nine billion. This falls short of state forecasts of up to CZK 30 billion. In the past two weeks, shares in ČR have fallen from CZK 1091.1 per share to CZK 858.3 per share.

Mark Preskett, 23 March 2001

Moving on:


Hospodářské noviny
Lidové noviny
Mladá fronta Dnes
ČTK—Czech News Agency

Today's updated headlines from the Czech Republic and Slovakia

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