The Czech Defence Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik has said the Czech Republic is discussing the securing of its aerospace with other NATO members. Owing to the recent floods, the government had to abandon plans to buy two dozen supersonic jet fighters for the Czech air force. Speaking at an air show in the city of Hradec Kralove on Saturday, Mr Tvrdik said that by mid-September he would put forward alternatives to the original plan to buy 24 Gripen fighters from the British-Swedish consortium BAE Systems/Saab. Mr Tvrdik said the options were to buy fewer aircraft, lease them or work in cooperation with other NATO member-countries.
The Foreign Ministers of all fifteen European Union member countries have approved the establishment of a special disaster relief fund. Finances from the fund will be available to both member and candidate countries. The Czech Republic too, is expected to be entitled to resources from the fund which should help the country in recovering from this year's devastating floods.
Specialists at the Spolana chemical plant north of Prague finished pumping out the remaining chlorine gas from the last two storage tanks on Saturday morning. Tanks with the dangerous chemical were stored in a warehouse which was damaged by the recent flood. The flooding at Spolana caused leakages of several chemical substances both into the air and water, the most dangerous being the leaks of chlorine. On Monday the government intervened after a second leak of chlorine into the air, and the factory's director was sacked. No one was hurt in the event, but plants in surrounding fields and gardens were burnt.
The state of emergency, which was put into force in five regions of the Czech Republic during the recent floods, will be called off on Saturday at midnight local time. In the surroundings of the towns of Decin and Litomerice and also in some parts of Prague, the state of emergency will be replaced by a state of alert. The state of emergency was first declared by Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla on the 12th of August when in a public address on Czech Radio, Mr Spidla stated that the danger caused by heavy floods in Prague, Central Bohemia, South Bohemia, and the Plzen and Karlovy Vary regions was severe enough to threaten the property, health, and lives of citizens.
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.
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.
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.
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