Contrary to earlier reports, there were no Czechs among the injured in Sunday's rocket attack on the Rashid hotel in Baghdad, said Czech official Martin Dvorak, who is based in the city. On Sunday morning the hotel was hit by rockets, in one of a series of attacks on western targets in the city. Around 20 Czech officials are based in the Iraqi capital.
The Czech cabinet has set up a special commission that will be responsible for the country's purchase of fighter jets. The commission is to assess the various bids made by selected countries. Transport Minister Milan Simonovsky told journalists on Wednesday that the members of the commission were chosen carefully to ensure that it was a strictly "technical" and not political committee. The Czech Army, and the ministries of defence, finance, foreign affairs, and trade and industry are represented. The government came under criticism on Monday, after it decided not to purchase the second-hand fighter jets through a public tender but rather by strategic order. On Wednesday, Turkey decided not to offer its jets, leaving Belgium, the United States, the Netherlands, Sweden, Canada and France among the seven countries interested to present their offers by the end of the month.
Czech Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla announced on Wednesday that Finance Minister Bohuslav Sobotka will be appointed deputy prime minister. Speaking at a special press conference on Wednesday, Mr Spidla said he has already made the request to Czech President Vaclav Klaus, who had no objections. Mr Spidla hopes to put the finance minister in charge of the public finance reform plan, mainly to oversee the drafting of bills on the areas of pension reform, tax reform, health care, and what is called the "grey economy". Mr Sobotka is expected to be appointed new deputy prime minister within the next month.
The three-party ruling coalition has agreed to provide a total of two billion crowns (around 75 million US dollars) to the country's most indebted regional hospitals. Financing of regional hospitals was recently made the responsibility of the fourteen regional self-governing authorities, rather than the central administration in Prague. However many were transferred with huge debts that the regions say they can't afford to pay back.
President Vaclav Klaus arrived in Slovenia on Tuesday for a two-day visit to the country. Mr Klaus held talks with his Slovene counterpart Janez Drnovsek, discussing mutual co-operation after both countries join the European Union in May 2004 as well as future co-operation within NATO. President Klaus told reporters after the talks that he did not believe small countries in the EU should form alliances against larger EU members. Mr Klaus said he was willing to work with any country that would fight what he described as Brussels bureaucracy, centralism and the diminishing importance of nation-states.
Another suspected case of BSE or mad cow disease has been reported in a herd near Prachatice, South Bohemia. If confirmed, it would be the Czech Republic's sixth case of the disease since 2001. The State Veterinary Authority said further tests were being carried out and the final result would be known by Wednesday, although the Authority said it was almost 100 percent certain that the animal was infected. Almost half a million cattle have been tested for BSE since the first case was confirmed two years ago.
The Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, has launched a three-day international conference on Tibet, taking place at a hotel in Prague. Representatives of pro-Tibetan democracy groups from across the world are attending the conference, which is being sponsored by a German foundation. It's the first time the gathering has been held in Prague. The Chinese embassy has issued a statement strongly criticising the conference and the decision to invite the Dalai Lama. Earlier on Sunday the Dalai Lama held private talks with former President Vaclav Havel. He is not expected to meet the current president, Vaclav Klaus.
Police in Prague have taken away sections of railway track for investigation after they were damaged by explosives. A police spokeswoman said the explosives were placed on the track and detonated some time on Sunday morning. No-one was injured in the explosion. The railway line between Prague and Beroun was closed for several hours to allow the tracks to be inspected. Anonymous blackmailers have threatened to destroy railway tracks on a number of occasions in the last few months.
Two Czechs were among 13 people sentenced to prison in the Antilles on Thursday for drugs smuggling. The two Czech citizens were sentenced to 30 months in prison by a court on the island of Sint Maarten, after being found guilty of attempting to smuggle 10 kilos of cocaine out of the country. The two had visited the Antilles - which are part of the Netherlands - as tourists. The remaining 11 people sentenced were Slovaks.
Hundreds of people waited for hours outside a bookshop in Brno on Saturday to attend a book signing by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Ms Albright, born Marie Korbelova in Prague, is in the Czech Republic to launch the Czech translation of her memoirs, entitled "Madam Secretary." Ms Albright, who speaks fluent Czech, will meet a number of senior officials during her visit including former president Vaclav Havel, who is a close personal friend. Her visit ends on Tuesday.
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