Citizens of the Czech Republic's eastern neighbour Slovakia have voted in favour of joining the European Union. Just over 52 percent of eligible voters took part in the plebiscite on Friday and Saturday, 2 percent more than the minimum turn-out required to validate the results. On Sunday the referendum commission said it recognised the outcome as valid. Of those who took part in voting an overwhelming majority, 92.46 percent voted in favour of joining the EU, with 6.2 voting against. After the results were announced the head of Slovak parliament Pavol Hrusovsky stated that the "future" of his country had "acquired a new dimension". On Sunday Czech Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla was among those to offer congratulations. The Czech Republic faces its own referendum on EU accession in just under a month.
The Czech 7th military field hospital has officially opened its doors to patients in Basra, Iraq, after a two week delay. Originally, the hospital was supposed to begin operating on May 6th, but logistical problems with the transport of materials prevented it from doing so. Until now a provisional site was used to tend to some 50 patients a day. Around 280 Czech personnel are stationed at the military hospital, including a haematologist, a paediatrician, and even a dentist. Doctors have also received training on local customs and the religion of Islam.
The public broadcaster Czech Radio is celebrating its 80th anniversary this Sunday since its first historic broadcast under the name Radiojournal from an army tent in a Prague field, on May 18th, 1923. The public, invited to join in the commemorative celebration held at the historic site in Prague, was able to view a recreation of that original broadcast, as well as to listen to the music of Czech stars Lenka Filipova, the Havelka sisters, and Karel Gott and the Czech Radio Orchestra. Also on hand: theatre legends Jiri Suchy and Jiri Labus, as well as moderators from the public broadcaster, all present to celebrate the birth of Czech Radio.
The Czech Republic has received another 81 million Euros (2.4 billion Czech crowns) from the EU's Phare and ISPA programmes. The money is to help the country prepare for its accession to the European Union. The financial memorandum to the programme was signed in Prague by the head of the EC delegation in the Czech Republic Ramiro Cibrian and Czech Deputy Finance Minister Zdenek Hruby on Friday. According to Mr Cibrian, much of the money from the Phare programme is to be used in problem areas named in the EU's last evaluation report, while the funds from the ISPA programme are to help improve the country's sewage system. The programme, made up of 26 different projects, will also create better education and unemployment opportunities for the Roma community, improve the Czech justice system, and fight against money laundering.
The Temelin nuclear power plant in southern Bohemia is suffering further technical difficulties: after the plant's first bloc had just returned to full power following problems with the cooling system, the test run of the plant's second bloc second block had to be reduced to under 40 percent and then just 5 percent on Thursday following an electrical complication in the bloc's generator. An inspection team is investigating the cause of the problem. Temelin's first bloc has been undergoing a test-run since June 2002, whilst the 2nd bloc entered its test-run period just last month. Experts at the plant have prepared for higher technical difficulties this year than the country's other nuclear facility Dukovany. Temelin spokesman Milan Nebesar has indicated that it took between two and three years before the technology there was optimally synchronised.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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