Czech police are searching for a person who is threatening to set public places on fire unless he receives considerable sums of money. While putting out a fire at a forest near the north-western town of Most on Friday, fire fighters found an anonymous letter from a person admitting to having started the fire and calling for one million Czech crowns, to stop him from proceeding to light another forest. Police are investigating the case and have not released any further details.
The opposition Civic Democratic Party has confirmed it will call for a no-vote of confidence in the government in the lower house of parliament this week. Speaking at a press conference, deputy party chairman Petr Necas explained the reason for the call was the current government public finance reform plan, which will leave the country in its biggest debt in its entire history. The government is therefore a threat to the country's economy and its internal and foreign policies, Mr Necas said.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Bertrand Ramcharan will be attending a seminar this Wednesday discussing the global fight against racism, discrimination and the problems faced by the Roma community. The seminar, which is to be held at the foreign ministry in Prague and chaired by Czech Human Rights Commissioner Jan Jarab, is to be a follow-up meeting on the UN's World Conference Against Racism that was held in Durban, South Africa, in 2001. Experts from international and non-governmental organisations will be discussing the developments in the fight against racism since the 2001 conference. During his trip to Prague, Mr Ramcharan also plans to meet with Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda.
The Czech government has approved the basic idea of a new law that is to protect the public against discrimination, government spokesperson Anna Veverkova said on Monday. The cabinet is yet to decide whether it is to be mediated by the public human rights protector or a special independent Centre for Equal Treatment.
A new member of parliament for the junior coalition Freedom Union, Tomas Vrbik, who will replace Hana Marvanova in the Chamber of Deputies, is likely to help the ruling coalition pass its planned fiscal reforms. Ms. Marvanova, who gave birth to her third son last Tuesday, announced on Friday that she was giving up her parliamentary seat. Her motherhood sparked fears that the government would loose its fragile majority in the lower house just days before crucial votes on the package of fiscal reforms take place. Political observers agree that Vrbik represents a certain hope for the ruling coalition to get the public finance reforms pass the Chamber of Deputies.
The government has approved next year's state budget. The final version envisages a deficit of 115 billion crowns, less than the originally proposed figure of 118 billion. The cabinet also allotted an extra 8 billion crowns which the Finance Ministry found in its reserves. The extra money will go towards the education system, agriculture, transport infrastructure and scientific research. Cabinet ministers originally demanded 40 billion on top of the previously approved budget framework. Finance Minister Bohumil Sobotka said the budget was directly linked with a package of fiscal reform proposals and is dependent on those reforms being approved by parliament.
Czech President Vaclav Klaus said he was confident border restrictions could fall within two years after the Czech Republic joins the European Union. Speaking in Passau, Germany, on Wednesday, Mr Klaus said lowering border restrictions had a higher priority than adopting the single European currency. Mr. Klaus was in Passau for a discussion on EU expansion along with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, former Polish President Lech Walesa and Hungarian Parliamentary Speaker Katalin Szili.
The minister of defence, Miroslav Kostelka, said on Wednesday that compulsory military service for young men could end as soon as next year. However, the minister said 2005 was more likely or, at the very latest, 2006. Mr Kostelka, who was appointed in June, on Wednesday presented his ideas for reform of the military to different ministries. On Thursday he is due to put the proposals before the Chamber of Deputies' defence and security committee.
The government has been meeting to debate next year's budget. The final draft of the budget proposal envisages a deficit of 118 billion crowns, a figure opposition parties say is too high. Budgets for individual ministries have already received provisional approval, though ministers are expected to put up a fight for an extra 11 billion crowns which have yet to be allotted.
A Prague taxi driver drove over a police officer's leg on Tuesday when the officer was carrying out a routine patrol, a police spokesman said on Wednesday. When the officer asked the taxi driver for his documents the latter drove at him and then drove over his leg. The incident is being investigated.
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