Czech Leaders Vote to Return Seized Lands

From Associated Press

Parliament on Thursday approved the former East Bloc's most ambitious plan yet to return property nationalized by communists to its previous owners.

Legislators then moved on to another cornerstone of the government's plan to end its control over the economy--a bill to turn much of industry over to private hands.

As much as $10.7-billion worth of property nationalized by the communists after they took power in 1948 will be turned back to private owners under the so-called restitution bill approved Thursday, Finance Minister Vaclav Klaus was quoted as telling Parliament.

About $714 million would be paid in cash to original owners, the daily Lidove Noviny reported. The remaining property would be returned in real estate and in the form of government-issued bonds, the newspaper quoted Klaus as saying.

The bill was approved on a second vote in Parliament, about 12 hours after it was narrowly rejected. The government of Slovakia, the eastern and more rural Czechoslovak republic, initially opposed the measure.

Slovakia had proposed giving original owners government bonds and access to management of companies turned over to private hands.

The legislation also allows Czechoslovak emigres who decide to return to their homeland to reclaim property. It gives original owners and their heirs six months to apply for their property.

No other former East Bloc country has taken a similar step.

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