CURRENT AFFAIRS Wednesday JUNE 14th, 2000 
  A daily in-depth look at current events in the Czech Republic.
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Misunderstanding over Kouchner statement explained

The head of the United Nation civil administration in Kosovo, Bernard Kouchner, has had to explain his statement about President Havel, which was, he says, misunderstood. Mr. Kouchner has also sent a letter to Vaclav Havel in an attempt to set things right and to express his deep respect for the Czech head of state's human rights record. Olga Szantova looks at the story.
It all started at a press conference on Monday, when Bernard Kouchner criticized former Czechoslovak foreign minister Jiri Dienstbier, who is now the UN's human rights investigator for the former Yugoslavia. Mr. Dienstbier has been very critical of Western actions in the Balkans. The criticism, Bernard Kouchner told Czech Radio, was very unfair.

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Well, at Monday's press conference the head of the UN civil administration in Kosovo tookJiri Dienstbier issue with Mr.Dienstbier's criticism in very strong terms, telling the human rights envoy to 'shut up'. And that's where the misunderstanding originated. News agencies first quoted Mr. Kouchner as having said about Dienstbier: "Not only will I not receive this person, but Vaclav Havel either." This statement was interpreted as meaning that he would refuse to meet both Mr. Dienstbier and the Czech president. But that, says Mr. Kouchner, is not what he meant at all, he was just trying to say that neither would Vaclav Havel be meeting Jiri Dienstbier in the future. The head of the UN civil administration in Kosovo explains:

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The head of the UN civil administration in Kosovo, Bernard Kouchner, speaking to Czech Radio there, and explaining a misunderstanding that made the headlines at the beginning of the week.

IPB in trouble?

The uncertainty around the Czech Republic's biggest bank, IPB, continues. While customers are queueing outside IPB branches to withdraw their savings, the government and the Czech National Bank have joined IPB representavies in an effort to calm the worried public. Vladimir Tax reports on a new crisis for the Czech banking sector.
On Monday, customers withdrew almost 1.5 billion CZK from IPB. Despite the government's assurances that it was prepared to help the troubled bank if necessary, once again I saw long lines of people standing outside my local IPB as I passed the bank on my way to work.

I spoke to some of the people there. While some of them said they would feel more secure with their money under the mattress, citing bad experiences with bank collapses in the past, others were staying calm, like the latter lady, who said she was waiting to make a regular transaction.

The Czech National Bank and the government issued a joint statement on Tuesday, saying they were prepared to support the bank if it finds itself unable to find a way out of trouble. IPB spokesman Jan Rezek told Radio Prague that despite the increased number of withdrawals, the bank was striving to serve all its customers as usual.

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The IPB case is just the latest in a series of problems in the Czech banking sector. The troubles began with the collapse of a number of small private banks, which fell victim to the widespread practice of asset-stripping in the early 1990's. In the past two or three years, however, the larger banks have also found themselves in difficulties due to huge amounts of non-performing assets and insufficient provisions to cover them.

IPB was the first state-owned bank to be privatised and it received no assistance from the government, unlike Komercni Banka and Ceska Sporitelna, into which the treasury has pumped tens of billions of crowns to cover their bad loans. Observers say the government cannot afford to let IPB fail, as it could have dire consequences not only for the Czech banking sector but for the Czech economy as a whole.

Euro 2000: Czechs prepare for World Champs

Moving on to football now, and the Czech Euro 2000 roadshow moves on to Belgium, where the Czechs play France in Bruges on Friday night. Dita Asiedu spoke to Radio Prague's Peter Smith, who is now in Brussels, and began by asking him what the atmosphere was like in the Belgian capital.

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TV 3 in trouble over controversial advert

The Czech Republic's newest commercial television station, TV 3, has only been on-air for a few weeks, but has already run into controversy. Not for its programmes, but for an advertisement that the Czech Advertising Board says has racist undertones. Nick Carey reports.
TV 3 was launched in a blaze of publicity only a few weeks ago. The newest addition to the Czech Republic's commercial television station family, TV 3 is currently broadcast in North and East Bohemia, and until transmitters are in place, it is available throughout the rest of the country via cable.

While many people seem pleased that there is a new television station on the block, extending the programming choice available, TV 3's initial advertising campaign has certainly not gone down well. One billboard in particular has outraged some Czechs, who have taken the matter to the Advertising Board, saying that it has racist undertones.

The billboard in question depicts a boxing ring. To the left a black boxer lies on the floor, and beside him stand two white soldiers holding guns and looking down at the prostrate boxer's body. The Advertising Board discussed the case on Tuesday, and ruled that the billboard creates the impression that the two soldiers have shot the boxer, and could been seen as containing a racist subtext. The board has therefore ordered that all copies of the billboard must be taken down.

TV 3 has defended its billboard, pointing to the word 'Infozabava', roughly translated as 'Infotainment', which appears to the left of the three characters. The soldiers, says TV 3 symbolise information, and the boxer entertainment. There is no racist message, says TV3.

But according to the Advertising Board, the information and entertainment symbolism of the billboard is not clear enough, and the ruling stands.

TV 3 plans to issue a protest.
Plzen teenager takes tram for joyride

Those listeners who have already visited Prague or other big cities in the Czech Republic will almost certainly have taken a tram, or at least seen one. For some people a tram is not only a means of transport, but a technical and historical obsession. Lucie Krupickova reports on how far this obsession can go:
Karel is a seventeen-year-old from the city of Plzen, renowned for its famous Pilsner beer. He has admired trams since his childhood and always wanted to drive one. His admiration for trams, or tramvaje, as Czechs say, led him to a Plzen tram depot at the beginning of this week. On Monday afternoon he walked into a tram shed, picked one of the trams ready for the next day, checked the brakes and set out on a journey through the streets of the city.

Unfortunately for Karel, the depot supervisors did not share his enthusiasm over his adventure, and when he came back to the depot after an hour of trundling around the city, police officers were already waiting for him. He now faces charges for unauthorised use of private property.

Karel from Plzen is not the only young man who decided to borrow a tram without asking in the last few months There have been several incidents of 'tram-napping', even in the capital Prague. Compared to the young man from Plzen, previous tram-nappers were more successful - they weren´t caught. Probably because they "borrowed" a vehicle at night when there aren't so many trams on the streets.

The question remains, however, as to who these young people are as well as the reasons behind their behaviour. Many seem to do it to impress their friends. Whether the public will have much patience for them is another matter. After all, who wants to encounter a tram - day or night - dashing through the streets and driven, unlike Karel from Plzen, by someone who might not even know where the brakes are.

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