251 soldiers from the Czech army's 4th anti-chemical unit said good-bye to their families and homeland on the main square in the South Bohemian town of Tyn nad Vltavou on Friday. They will fly to Kuwait to participate in the Enduring Freedom anti-terrorist operation in the region. Defence Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik told the soldiers that they were the best representatives of the Czech armed forces. The Czech Republic, as a full-fledged NATO member, is held responsible for the protection of common values of democracy, freedom and compliance with human rights, Minister Tvrdik said.
The three major flood accounts in the Czech Republic have collected more than 200 million crowns for flood victims. The most successful account was that of the People in Need Foundation, to which some 119 million crowns have been sent by those who want to help. The other two accounts belong to the Czech government and the Czech Catholic Charity. About one third of the sum has come from abroad. Money is flowing in from individuals, companies and charity organizations from many countries, including the United States, Spain, Slovakia, Poland and Croatia.
On Monday, Czech president Vaclav Havel and his wife Dagmar will visit the town of Svihov in the Klatovy region in West Bohemia, which is among the most heavily flood-stricken places in the Czech Republic. At present, there are soldiers in Svihov helping with the clean-up operation. The town is famous for its medieval castle surrounded by a wide moat.
The German Environment Ministry has announced experts found no dangerous chemicals in the river Elbe which flows to Germany from the Czech Republic. Authorities in the republic of Saxony which was worst affected by the recent floods were afraid toxic chemicals could have leaked from flooded chemical plants in the Czech Republic, namely the Spolana plant north of Prague. Although the concentration of heavy metals and organic waste has increased in the river, the levels don't exceed Germany's safety norms.
Later on Thursday Guenter Verheugen also met the Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda for talks on the Czech Republic's preparations for EU accession proposed for 2004. Stating the current EU's financial assistance as an example, Mr Svoboda said the Czech Republic would benefit from its membership in the Union. He also said the aid would have been bigger if the country were already a member. The European Union intends to establish a fund aimed at helping member states to overcome natural disasters. By the end of this year 500 million euro will be available in the fund for the flooded countries of Austria and Germany but also for the Czech Republic.
Prague authorities have announced the city is safe and as beautiful as ever in order to reassure foreign visitors who might be apprehensive because of the recent flood. According to the city's mayor Igor Nemec foreign media are still presenting what he termed "an apocalyptic image of Prague". The city is suffering major losses in tourism revenues as visitors are cancelling their stays. The city-hall has said the renewal of the flooded areas is progressing fast. On Wednesday Prague's 14th-century Charles Bridge reopened to the public and as of Thursday, boats will be cruising again on the river in the centre of Prague.
President Vaclav Havel has thanked the European Union's commissioner for enlargement Guenter Verheugen for the financial aid the EU has provided to the flood-hit Czech Republic. After meeting President Havel at Prague Castle on Thursday, Mr Verheugen told journalists the European Union had offered the Czech Republic 58 million euro from the funds aimed at supporting candidate countries. The European Investment Bank has offered the country a loan of up to 200 million euro. According to first estimates the Czech Republic has suffered damage worth up to 3 billion euro.
Greenpeace has included Spolana in its "Company Crimes" report presented at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg. Greenpeace has expressed grave concern over the activities of Spolana, saying that the plant's management has withheld information on matters that posed a serious threat to the public. Greenpeace has repeatedly highlighted the danger of poisonous dioxins and an estimated 25,000 kilograms of poisonous mercury which are stored at Spolana.
The Czech Republic has come halfway down Transparency International's annual corruption perceptions index. The country came joint 52nd with Slovakia and Latvia, out of a total of 102 countries surveyed. Other post-Communist countries - including Poland and Hungary - were judged to be less corrupt, and came higher up the list. In first place was Finland, while Bangladesh and Nigeria came joint last.
Officials at the Spolana chemical plant north of Prague say they have pumped out around six of the twelve to fourteen tonnes of chlorine from a partially submerged storage tank. They said specialists were converting the chlorine into a harmless chemical. Fire crews and buses are on standby to evacuate residents in the event of an emergency. Leaks of both liquid chlorine and chlorine gas from Spolana over the last ten days have alarmed the authorities and local residents. On Monday the government intervened after a second leak of chlorine into the air, and Spolana's director was sacked. No one was hurt in the leak, but crops in surrounding fields and gardens were burnt.
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