Politicians and soldiers have expressed their surprise and disappointment at the resignation of Defence Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik. President Vaclav Klaus told reporters the decision was a serious matter, and that he would wait until he had spoken to Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla before deciding whether to accept Mr Tvrdik's resignation. Mr Spidla has said he wants more time to consider the resignation, and will wait until next week before he speaks to the president.
Meanwhile soldiers serving with the Czech Army's field hospital in the Iraqi city of Basra have expressed their dismay at Mr Tvrdik's resignation. The commander of the field hospital said he hoped the minister would reconsider. Sources at NATO headquarters in Brussels said NATO officials were also taken aback by the move. NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson held talks with Mr Tvrdik earlier this week in Prague, during the alliance's Parliamentary Assembly meeting.
Meanwhile a concert in support of EU membership planned for Prague's Old Town Square has been cancelled, after councillors on the opposition-controlled council decided not to allow the event. They said the concert, to be opened by former President Vaclav Havel, would be too loud. Prague City Council is controlled by the opposition Civic Democrats. The party supports EU membership, but says it's opposed to further European integration.
Mr Tvrdik submitted his resignation on Thursday morning in protest at planned cuts in defence spending as part of the government's finance reforms. The minister, well respected both within the cabinet and among regular soldiers, had masterminded widespread reform of the armed forces to help create a professional army by 2006. Many of his reforms were based on the government spending some 2.2 percent of GDP on the military, as promised to NATO. But under the recently unveiled package of reforms, defence spending is to be cut to two percent.
The government is to launch the final stage of its campaign to encourage citizens to take part in the referendum on joining the European Union in two weeks' time. The final stage will be launched on Sunday, with a series of adverts on television. Most Czechs are in favour of their country joining the EU, but public apathy has raised fears of a low turnout in the referendum. The existing government campaign has been criticised by the opposition and President Klaus as superficial and naïve.
The government has approved a plan recommending that up to 400 Czech soldiers participate in a multi-national stabilisation force in Iraq to help maintain the peace. The recommended include personnel from the Czech 7th field hospital, as well as 50 military police officers and 15 soldiers form the CIMIC unit for civil-military co-operation. On Wednesday government spokeswoman Anna Starkova said the government had also approved measures for the protection of Czech employees from the Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance for Post-War Iraq. Both measures will still have to be approved by Parliament.
The deputy to the country's public ombudsman Anna Sabatova has revealed that public ombudsman Otakar Motejl is in hospital. The ombudsman was reportedly taken to hospital on Tuesday suffering from fever; details are not known. He had been scheduled to speak in the lower house on Wednesday, to give a report on recent office dealings, which in the end was provided by Mr Motejl's deputy Ms Sabatova. Otakar Motejl is 71, a former chairman of the Supreme Court, as well as former minister of justice in the previous minority government.
The Czech government has called upon Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda, along with Trade and Industry Minister Milan Urban, to appeal to the European Commission on behalf of the Trinec Steelworks. The government would like to see the troubled steelworks receive public funds for needed re-structuralisation. According to Minister Milan Urban the Trinec steelworks should be added to a list of recipient steel companies that include Nova Hut, Vitkovice, and Valcovny Frydek-Mistek. In the minister's view the addition of Trinec to the list would divide EU funds already pledged, which some sources say amount to 150 million euros.
Agriculture Minster Jaroslav Palas has said the Czech Republic supports European Union Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler's proposals to reform the EU's farm policy. Speaking in Brussels on Tuesday, Mr Palas added, however, that it was necessary to make clear how the reforms would affect new member countries. The Czech Republic is set to join the EU in May next year, subject to a referendum in three weeks time.
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