An estimated 10,000 farmers have staged an angry demonstration in Prague against the European Union's plans to provide relatively low agricultural subsidies to new member countries. On Wednesday morning farmers pelted the Agriculture Ministry with eggs, beets, potatoes and tomatoes, breaking around two dozen windows. They also set fire to bales of straw and blocked the main gate to the ministry with piles of manure. No arrests were made. Agriculture Minister Jaroslav Palas said the demonstration was justified, but condemned the damage caused. The protest came just days before the Czech government was due to conclude an agriculture agreement as part of accession talks with the EU. The union plans to phase in farm subsidies in the Czech Republic and other candidate countries over several years, once they join in 2004.
Britain has deported another 39 Czech citizens after rejecting their requests for asylum. The group, all believed to be members of the Roma minority, was the seventh to arrive in Prague since Britain began deporting Czech asylum seekers in September. The British authorities say all asylum requests by Czech Roma will be turned down because the Czech government does not persecute its citizens. The Roma say they suffer discrimination and are frequently attacked by far-right skinheads.
The head of the European Commission's delegation to Prague, Ramiro Cibrian, has said new EU members can expect a rise in growth rates after they join the EU. Speaking at an economic forum in Prague, Mr Cibrian said economic growth could exceed 3 percent in the first years after accession, expected in 2004. Analysts expect economic growth in the Czech Republic to reach 2.5 per cent by the end of this year.
The European Union's Commissioner for Enlargement, Guenter Verheugen, has praised the settling of the dispute between the Czech Republic and Austria over the post-war Benes decrees. Addressing a lecture in Vienna on Tuesday, Mr Verheugen was quoted as saying the problem had now disappeared. The Benes decrees sanctioned the expulsion of around three million ethnic Germans from Czechoslovakia after the Second World War. The expulsion has been the source of tension with Austria in recent years, with some expellees calling for an apology and restitution of property. The two countries recently made progress towards settling the dispute.
Czech farmers are planning to stage another demonstration in Prague in protest at conditions set by the European Union for farmers from candidate countries. Speaking to journalists on Monday, the head of the Czech Agricultural Chamber, Vaclav Hlavacek, said that between 5,000 to 10,000 farmers are expected to flock to the Czech capital to gather in front of the Agriculture Ministry and head for the seat of the European Commission's delegation. According to Mr Hlavacek, talks on the "agriculture" chapter with the EU are unsatisfactory as farmers need a full volume of direct payments in order to be able to compete on the EU market. EU officials, on the other hand, stress that farmers of the candidate countries, including the Czech Republic, would not be worse off after EU membership than they were before.
During its session on Monday, the Czech government decided to raise the minimum monthly wage by 500 Czech crowns to 6,200 crowns as of January next year. The minimum wage was introduced in 1991 when it was set at 2,000 Czech crowns. In the Czech Republic it is less than 40 per cent of the average wage. Whilst some economists have warned that a higher minimum wage could lower labour productivity and increase unemployment, trade unions have welcomed the rise, arguing that it would force employers to utilise their workforce more efficiently.
Meanwhile Mr Motejl has said he still wants to stand in the election, despite his poor showing in the poll. The popular ombudsman came third, behind Mr Zeman and also outsider Jaroslav Bures. However Mr Motejl remains highly popular among the general public, and observers say he is the only candidate who enjoys sufficient cross-party support in parliament to be elected. The Social Democrats have until December 7th to choose a candidate. The election itself takes place on January 15th in a joint session of the upper and lower house. President Vaclav Havel steps down on February 2nd after 13 years in the post.
Former Prime Minister Milos Zeman has been speaking to reporters after emerging as the clear winner of the so-called party referendum, organised by the senior coalition Social Democrats to choose a presidential candidate. The poll suggested that Mr Zeman - seen as representing the party's old guard - was the most popular candidate among Social Democrat supporters. This has been an embarrassment to the party leadership, who hoped the poll would endorse their preferred candidate, the country's ombudsman Otakar Motejl. Mr Zeman repeated on Sunday that he would only stand in the second round of the presidential election, posing more problems for the Social Democrats, who want to field a candidate in the first round.
Austrian protestors staged a brief blockade of a border crossing on Saturday in protest at the Czech Republic's Temelin nuclear power plant. A group of around 20 anti-nuclear activists blocked the Gmund border crossing for around 30 minutes before dispersing. There were no arrests. The blockade was organised by Austria's Stop Temelin group, who said they wanted the Austrian government to do more to oppose the use of nuclear power in neighbouring countries. There has been tension between Austria and the Czech Republic over Temelin, although relations have improved considerably in recent months.
The country's ombudsman Otakar Motejl has said he still wants to stand as a candidate for the senior coalition Social Democrats in the upcoming presidential elections, despite a so-called party referendum suggesting that former Prime Minister Milos Zeman is far more popular among both party members and the public. The Social Democrat leadership has until December 7th to choose a candidate for president. It was hoped the party referendum would endorse Mr Motejl as the most popular choice, and marginalise Mr Zeman, who is seen as representing the old guard. However Mr Zeman emerged as the clear winner of the poll, and Mr Motejl came third.
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