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Vol 3, No 6
12 February 2001
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Czech newsNews from the
Czech Republic

All the important news
since 3 February 2001

Mark Preskett


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


Cuba frees prisoners

The month-long imprisonment of Ivan Pilip, the former finance minister and member of parliament, and Jan Bubeník, a former student dissident, in a Havana jail came to an end on Monday after a public confession earned their release. The two had been in jail since 12 January, accused of working for the US-based non-governmental organization Freedom House and passing information on to "anti-Cuban dissidents."

Negotiations to secure the release of Mr Pilip and Mr Bubeník looked to be going nowhere after Petr Pithart, chairman of the Senate, returned to the Czech Republic on Sunday without the two. Mr Pithart had flown to Cuba early last week on Fidel Castro's personal invitation but was then made to wait six days before finally meeting with the Cuban president.

Although the Senator remained as optimistic as when he had left for Cuba, on the same day of the delayed meeting, President Castro was quoted as saying, "Apologise to our country... there must be an apology." The Czech government, however, have throughout the crisis refused to do so. "I don't see a reason why we should apologise. The government didn't send Mr Pilip or Mr Bubeník to Cuba," said Prime Minister Miloš Zeman on Sunday.

The deadlock was broken on Monday, when the pair signed a statement that was later read to foreign diplomats and Cuban officials. The statement seemed to satisfy Havana's demands for an apology. In it the two men admitted they had unknowingly broken Cuban law by meeting the dissidents at the request of Freedom House.

On arrival in Prague, the two seemed understandably relieved to have survived the ordeal. "Right now, I feel lucky to have made it back and that it is over," said Ivan Pilip. He later added that he had visited Cuba once before and met with "more than 20 dissidents."


Klaus apologises for harsh words

Chairman of the Chamber of Deputies Václav Klaus apologised to the chairman of the Senate, Petr Pithart. On Mr Pithart's return to the Czech Republic from Cuba, Mr Klaus condemned the mission as having had "no result" and employing "non-standard" methods. He added that he believed people should not place "exaggerated hopes" on such "non-standard methods." Klaus's statement was made on the day of the prisoners' release.

"I would like to apologise for Monday's statement concerning the results of Petr Pithart's mission to Cuba. It was made on the basis of information available at the time and has been shown to be wrong," said Mr Klaus on Wednesday.

The financial daily Hospodářské noviny was of the opinion that Klaus's statement had no effect on the release of the Mr Pilip or Mr Bubeník. Lidové noviny, though, printed a quote from an unnamed source claiming that it had infuriated President Castro to such a degree that it actually sped up the release.


Beef on the menu

The EU commissioner for agriculture, Franz Fischler, was in Prague this week to meet with the Czech agriculture minister, Jiří Fencl, to discuss the issue of opening the borders again to beef imports form the EU. At present, there is a total ban on all beef products entering the country from 11 EU member states.

According to Mr Fencl, the two also spoke about the "loss" to the Czech Republic incurred from the fear of Mad Cow Disease (BSE), which has spread across and beyond the EU. "Due to BSE, beef consumption fell by some 27 per cent in the EU and even more in the Czech Republic," he stated. The decrease in demand for beef products has also meant that the price of beef has fallen dramatically: from CSK 40 two months ago to CSK 33 today.

Some companies are considering requesting compensation for the costs of testing for BSE. Vlad'ka Pivoňková, marketing director for Kostelecké uzeniny, the largest domestic meat processor, told Hospodářské noviny on Wednesday, "For now we are playing a waiting game. We will see how the purchase and sale prices are affected." The firm estimates costs for the testing to be in the order of tens of millions of crowns.

No cases of either BSE or its human equivalent, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD), have yet been reported in the Czech Republic.


Nomura continues to fight

The former owners of Investiční a poštovní banka (IPB), the Japanese investment group, Nomura, asked the European Commission (EC) this week to investigate the transfer of IPB to Československá obchodní banka (ČSOB). The state sold IPB for an undisclosed sum with a number of guarantees to ČSOB, after it had placed the former under forced administration.

The EC is most interested in whether the state had any right in providing assistance in the sale. "The case definitely raises a number of questions. So we believe it makes sense to look further into the matter," said spokesman for the EC, Michael Tsecherny.

Nomura is asking the Commission for compensation amounting to CSK 30.5 billion, which is the same figure its daughter company, Saluka, demanded from the Czech Ministry of Finance when the case went before international arbitrators.

Mark Preskett, 9 February 2001

Moving on:


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

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