A proposed bilateral agreement between the Czech Republic and the Vatican was rejected by Parliament on Wednesday. The agreement, which was to have established the relationship between the State and the Church, was rejected by 110 out of 177 deputies present in the Lower House. The Communists, Civic Democrats and some Social Democrats who raised their hands against it said that in its present form the agreement would have given the Catholic Church a privileged position in the Czech Republic. Because Parliament cannot amend international agreements, work on the treaty will have to begin all over again. The Christian Democrats in the Lower House expressed bitter disappointment over the outcome of the vote, saying that two years of hard work had been lost.
The former President Vaclav Havel is to be awarded the country's highest state distinctions : the Order of the White Lion and the Order of Tomas Garrigue Masaryk. The proposal for the former Czech president to receive these distinctions was approved by both houses of Parliament. It is not yet clear when the award giving ceremony will take place. Vaclav Havel spent thirteen years in office, the first three of which he served as president of Czechoslovakia.
A Parliament commission is to ascertain who is responsible for the Czech Republic's lost arbitration with the Bermuda based media company CME, resulting in a ten billion crown fine for the country. An international arbitration procedure and a Swedish court of appeal both ruled that the Czech Republic had damaged CME by failing to protect its investment in private TV Nova. CME helped to launch the station in the early 90s but was later sidelined by its management. The man who is believed to have been behind the operation, TV Nova's former general director Vladimir Zelezny was sacked last week by the television's new owners. Zelezny claims that he acted within the bounds of the law.
The country's trade agency Czechtrade has announced that more than 600 firms have offered their services in the post-war reconstruction of Iraq. Czechtrade director Martin Tlapa said the names of the firms had been forwarded to U.S. bodies for consideration. The Czech government says it will spend around 20 million dollars financing reconstruction projects by Czech firms in Iraq.
The Czech Republic has been asked to contribute to the establishment of NATO's first multi-national battalion for the protection against weapons of mass destruction. The battalion would be part of NATO's rapid reaction forces. Speaking to journalists in Brussels, Czech Defence Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik said preparations for its creation are to start immediately, in order to be ready to serve in operations by the second half of 2004.
The chief of Prague's flood-damaged metro network, Ladislav Houdek, has resigned. Prague's Transit Authority announced his resignation on Monday without comment. The Metro's safety chief also stepped down on Friday amid an investigation into whether the underground railway was adequately protected during last summer's disaster. According to Prague mayor Pavel Bem, experts have come to the conclusion that the metro was flooded because it was only built to withstand so-called "century floods" - floods which arrive just once a century. However, the city transportation commission has also been questioning whether officials did enough to protect the metro system.
The coalition government has decided to join the EU in its fight against poverty and introduce measures that will reduce the number of industrial accidents, government spokeswoman Anna Starkova said on Monday. According to Mrs Starkova, Europe has increasingly been taking steps to prevent the isolation of the socially weak from the rest of society and ensure that employees are safe at their workplace, while Czech rules and regulations have not been adapted to the changes on the work market nor to the demographic development. The government has therefore decided to establish a new committee that will look into the current problem areas and find ways of tackling the main causes.
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.
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