Czech experts are to hold important posts during the reconstruction process in Iraq, according to the leader of the Czech team in Baghdad, Janina Hrebickova. Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, Ms Hrebickova said Czechs would be involved in the reconstruction of oil refineries as well as newly established ministries and other state offices. Some 20 Czechs experts are to work in the Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Aid in Iraq. Ms Hrebickova stressed that the Czech Republic's main priority was to help rebuild Iraq, torn apart by war and years of totalitarian rule, and not obtain contracts for Czech firms.
Czech President Vaclav Klaus has vetoed a bill submitted by parliament for the first time since his inauguration in March. Petr Hajek from the presidential office said on Tuesday that Mr Klaus refused to sign the bill on zoological gardens because it offered tax benefits to certain zoos. According to Mr Hajek, the bill introduces exceptional tax releases for a selected group of beneficial activities, thereby discriminating against other branches and potentially resulting in tax evasion. Since the law was largely supported by MPs in April, Mr Klaus' veto is expected to be overruled on May 27, when it will be re-discussed in parliament.
A new police study has claimed heroin gangs have begun moving their operations to bases outside the Czech Republic. In its latest annual report, the police's National Anti-Drug Centre said Balkan crime gangs responsible for much of Europe's heroin trafficking had been shifting warehouse operations to Poland and Slovakia. In addition, the report said Czechs were less likely to be hired as drug couriers by the Kosovo-Albanian, Croatian and Bulgarian gangs. The changes mark a shift away from the Czech Republic's long-time status as a trafficking route for heroin from the Balkans and Asia to neighbouring Germany and other parts of Western Europe.
Unemployment in the Czech Republic fell below 10 percent in April, but analysts expect it to climb again soon. The Labour Ministry announced on Monday that last month's jobless rate was 9.6 percent, down from 10 percent in March and the country's all-time record of 10.2 percent set in January and February. The ministry said seasonal hiring in construction and other sectors helped shorten lines for jobless benefits last month. However analysts said they believed the downturn was temporary, and would rise again soon.
Economists have criticised plans unveiled by the government on Monday to reduce the budget deficit to prepare for adoption of the euro. Some economists said the measures would mean the country would not be able to meet the eurozone criterion of a budget deficit below three percent of GDP until after 2006, pushing back the earliest euro adoption date to 2009-2010. They said the basic outline of the plan was not far-reaching enough. The plan involves cuts in social benefits and tax changes to cut the fiscal gap from over six percent of GDP this year to four percent in 2006.
Representatives of the three Czech ruling coalition parties have agreed to measures aimed at reducing the country's growing deficit of public finances. Cabinet experts agreed to reduce the number of state bureaucrats and to slow down wage growth in the public sector. The ministers also approved a radical reform of the pension scheme from a continuously financed system to a savings-based one. The retirement age will be increased to 63 from the current 61 for men and 60 for women. Czech economic experts and foreign institutions have repeatedly warned that the growing public finance gap is unsustainable and besides causing other problems, it could pose a threat to the country's adoption of the single European currency.
The Czech ice hockey team, who ended fourth at the world ice hockey championships in Finland on Saturday, have received a warm welcome home. Several dozen fans applauded each team member as they emerged at the at Prague Ruzyne airport on Sunday. The Czechs won world title in three of the past four years. The president of the Czech Ice Hockey Union, Karel Gut, said the fourth place was still a great success and that replacing the national team's three couches was out of the question.
A young Czech man who recently visited China has been admitted to Prague Bulovka hospital for fears he may have contracted the SARS disease. Doctors said the hospitalisation was more of a precautionary measure because the 30-year old man had fever but no other symptoms typical for SARS. Around 30 people so far have been taken to hospitals in the Czech Republic for suspcion of SARS but tests did not prove the disease in any of them. More than 500 people have died and thousands contracted the disease worldwide, with the biggest number of cases in China.
Pilots for the Czech Republic's national carrier Czech Airlines have been staging a work slowdown since Thursday that delayed many flights and is likely to continue throughout the weekend. The slowdown has affected at least one-third of the carrier's 150 daily flights which have been delayed by 20 minutes on average. The job action stems from a contract dispute between the airline and a union representing its 350 pilots. The two sides have been negotiating for a new contract since January. A new round of talks involving the Czech Ministry of Labour is expected to begin Monday.
The health condition of three Czech soldiers who were injured in a road accident in Iraq on Friday has been improving. Two of them were released from hospital, but the third one remains in intensive care with serious injuries. The accident took place some 150 kilometres south of Baghdad. Experts are still investigating the accident which is thought to have been caused by exhaustion of the driver.
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