The Czech Republic's accession talks with the European Union should be completed in Copenhagen by the end of this year, the EU ambassador to Prague, Ramiro Cibrian, said in Ostrava on Friday. Mr Cibrian said that the annual report on candidate countries' readiness to join the European Union - to be published in two week's time - would show that there was no doubt about the Czech Republic's suitability for membership.
The Czech Defence Minister, Jaroslav Tvrdik, plans to send some 120 Czech soldiers to Afghanistan to take part in the international anti-terrorist operation 'Enduring Freedom'. The soldiers are to be members of a special forces unit and will be deployed on February 1st next year if the operation is given the green light from both government and parliament. The mission is not to exceed a period of four months. The defence minister expects to finance the operation by calling back most members of the Czech anti-chemical unit, currently in Kuwait, by the beginning of next year instead of in May 2003 as initially planned.
The Czech Republic will most likely close the economic chapter in EU accession talks at a conference in Brussels on Tuesday. According to Deputy Industry and Trade Minister Miroslav Somol, it will most probably be the only chapter that Czech representatives will discuss next week. Negotiation around the economic chapter was long and hard as both sides wanted their own terms regarding the reconstruction of the steel sector. The closing document of the chapter is expected to contain detailed conditions under which the Czech Republic is to go ahead with the restructuring.
The Czech Insurers' Association revealed on Thursday that the estimates of damage caused by last month's floods were reduced from 30.6 billion Czech crowns to 29.7 billion crowns. The number of flood-related claims recorded by the 17 insurance companies that are part of the association also fell from 100,000 to 78,000. Employees of the insurance companies have already inspected all of their clients' damaged properties, with the exception of smaller cases of flooded cellars or partially damaged weekend cottages. Insurance companies hope to cover the claims of most of their clients by the end of this year.
The Spolana chemical plant in Neratovice near Prague has announced plans to bring its operations fully back to normal by mid-November, three months after devastating floods first hit the factory. The flooding lead to chemical spills of chlorine, dioxins, and mercury in the surrounding area. Before the plant can resume full operations it will still be necessary to renew electricity and heating throughout much of the factory. An independent investigation is currently underway to help prepare new safety and communications measures at the chemical plant.
The European Parliament's foreign affairs committee will reopen the debate on the historic Benes Decrees, which sanctioned the expulsion of 2.5 million ethnic Germans from Czechoslovakia after the Second World War. The committee will return to the question of the decrees' compatibility with current EU legislation in the first week of October, and will appraise the findings of independent analysts who researched the issue over the summer months. In the past the Czech Republic's controversial Benes Decrees have been a highly politicised issue by right-of centre and far-right parties in both Germany and Austria.
Czech police have charged the manager of a night-club in Ostrava's Stodolni street with drug trafficking, saying he dealt in marijuana and hard drugs and sold narcotics directly on the premises and on the street. The man's wife is the owner of the club. Police say additional suspects may be charged in connection with the case in the coming days. If found guilty the accused, who is thirty-three-years-old, faces up to 10 years in prison. Stodolni street and its vicinity in the town of Ostrava, in the eastern part of the country, boasts about six dozen clubs, bars and restaurants; it is estimated that about 12,000 locals gather there at the weekends, making the area lucrative for illegal drugs trafficking.
In a major step towards European Union harmonisation, Czech Republic telecom operators on Sunday renumbered all of the country's 11.5 million mobile and land-line telephones. A confusing, outmoded numbering system was replaced with a nine-digit number for each of the country's 7.8 million mobile phones and 3.7 million land lines. In addition, the number of area codes was reduced to 14 from 159. The new system brings the country in line with EU standards, allows for more competition among operators, and sets the stage for the introduction of new services.
A deputy prime minister in the Social Democrat government has said if the present centre-left coalition falls, his party will include the Communist Party in talks on support for a minority government. Deputy Prime Minister Pavel Rychetsky said if the coalition was brought down by the right-of-centre Freedom Union, the Social Democrats would look for support among all parties in parliament, including the Communists. The Social Democrats passed a resolution several years ago banning co-operation with the Communists at national government level.