The Czech government will meet over the weekend to approve a law which would enable the US Air Force to help protect Czech airspace during the November NATO summit in Prague. According to the Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda the proposed bill should clearly state who will be in command in the event of a crisis. Czech officials want the ultimate responsibility to rest with the Czech Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik. At a press conference in Prague on Friday Minister Svoboda rejected rumors that the US Air Force was threatening to pull out of the operation because of conflict over command.
Czechs are voting in the second round of elections to one third of the Senate, in which seats are contested every two years. Fifty two hopefuls face run offs in 26 districts after only one candidate, the controversial media mogul Vladimir Zelezny, booked an outright victory in last week's first round. Turnout last weekend was poor at 24 % , but officials expect a higher turnout for the run off as municipal elections are also being held around the country this weekend, giving voters an added incentive to cast ballots. Although the Czech Senate has limited powers in the two-chamber parliament, it will play a key role in selecting a successor to President Vaclav Havel, whose final term ends in January.
The authorities in Prague announced on Thursday that the state of emergency put in place during the summer's severe floods had been lifted, although the clean-up operation continues. A city spokesman said public services in the capital will not return to normal until at least next spring, while the city is still struggling to raise funds to cover clean-up and repair costs totalling about 1 billion dollars. The state of emergency began in August when the Vltava River burst its banks and forced 50,000 people to evacuate low-lying areas. Some people are still waiting to be allowed home.
The spokeswoman for Czech Rail has revealed that fierce gales that hit the Czech Republic over the weekend caused more than 18 million crowns in damages to the country's roads and railways. Damaged were railway tracks covered by fallen trees, rail communications systems, and trolley-bus lines. Vehicles were also damaged, and in all two-hundred and seventy-nine trains showed late arrivals during the storms. Thirty-six trains did not pull out all and another ninety-eight were by covered replacement busses.
Some three thousand dissatisfied farmers and agriculture representatives gathered in Prague Wednesday to demonstrate against what they see as an imminent financial crisis in the agriculture sector. Farmers also protested agriculture accession terms proposed by the European Union, and called for more government support in areas of the country damaged by mid-August floods. The protest demonstration concluded at the Office of the government and the houses of parliament, where farmers blocked traffic and chanted slogans before presenting government and parliament members with a petition signed by more than 100, 000.
Farmers' organisations have collected almost 120,000 signatures on a petition calling on the state to help them cope with the financial crisis they say is facing Czech agriculture. The petition is to be presented to the government and both houses of parliament on Wednesday morning, when around 3,000 farmers are due to hold a demonstration in the centre of Prague. Farmers in candidate countries are not expected to receive the same level of subsidies as those enjoyed by farmers in existing EU members.
The Czech prime minister, Vladimir Spidla, has held talks in London with his British counterpart Tony Blair. The two men discussed the enlargement of the European Union, NATO, Czech emigration to the UK and the Czech government's plans to buy Gripen war planes, which are made by a British-Swedish consortium. On the question of Iraq, Mr Spidla said it was necessary to deal with the issue through the United Nations, which should give weapons inspectors a clear and strong mandate to inspect any site in the country.
A third of the Senate's 81 seats are being contested, but only one candidate was elected in the first round. The remaining 26 seats will be decided by a runoff next weekend. The main opposition Civic Democrats made the strongest showing, sending 19 candidates into the second round. They were followed by the ruling Social Democrats. The Senate has little real power, as vetoes can be overridden by the lower house. But its consent is crucial for changes to the constitution, and the elections will influence who is to succeed President Vaclav Havel in February.
Voting ended at the weekend in the first round of the Senate elections, in a poll marked by widespread voter apathy. Officials said just 24 percent of people had bothered to vote - the lowest turnout since the upper house was created six years ago. The Senate is highly unpopular among the public, with most people seeing it as irrelevant. The low turnout was also due to the long weekend, which many Czechs are spending at their country cottages.
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