On an official visit to neighbouring Austria, the Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda assured his Austrian counterpart Benita Ferrero Waldner that the Czech Republic intended to fully adhere to all bilateral agreements reached regarding the safety of the Temelin nuclear power plant as well as international safety norms. "Our own citizens live much closer to Temelin than Austrians - it is understandable that safety is a top priority for us" Minister Svoboda said. The Austrian Foreign Minister reiterated Austria's stand that it would much prefer for the Czech Republic to desist from further nuclear power production, saying this was Austria's only concern in otherwise satisfactory bilateral relations. The two officials also discussed cross border cooperation and employment policies.
Union heads from 12 power stations run by the state owned power utility CEZ have threatened to go to court if CEZ is excluded from the privatization of coal producers Sokolska uhelna and Severoceske Doly. A ministerial commission is to decide on Thursday whether or not to exclude CEZ from the privatization of the two companies. The Cabinet is opposed to CEZ's participation, a fact that is said to have been a decisive factor in the recent dismissal of Jaroslav Mil from the post of CEZ general director and chairman of the board. Industry and Trade Minister Milan Urban said the energy giant should not be thinking about coal mining at present but should rather focus on electricity production.
Up to 800 cows may have to be put down in connection with the seventh confirmed case of BSE in the Czech Republic. The last cow found to be infected was from a farm in northeast Bohemia and what appears to be significant for vets is that the animal was born in the year 2,000 i.e. much later that the previously detected cases. Regional vets and the State Veterinary Office are now debating the final number of animals which will have to be put down. "We want to keep the number as low as possible without taking any risks" a spokesman said. Czech vets have tested more than 450, 000 animals for BSE to date. The public appears to have faith in the applied safety measures since beef consumption has not dropped on the news of the last two positive cases of BSE.
Mayors of two Czech towns situated near the German border have joined the country's politicians in refuting a UNICEF claim that child prostitution is rampant in the border areas. The mayor of Cheb Vaclav Jakl told journalists that the problem of child prostitution in his region did not exceed the number of cases found elsewhere, not only in the Czech Republic but across Europe. Interior Minister Stanislav Gross has sharply denied the UNICEF claim, saying that investigators had found no evidence of child prostitution this month during the country's largest ever police raid on brothels. Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla told the CTK press agency that the UNICEF report was "unrealistic".
Czech President Vaclav Klaus also considers October 28th a significant Czech holiday. Speaking to journalists after placing a wreath at the statue of Tomas Garrigue Masaryk, the founder and first president of Czechoslovakia, he said it was a day of commemoration and inspiration. As has become tradition, the Czech President received foreign diplomats on the national holiday and awarded state medals to twenty-five personalities at a ceremony at Prague Castle. Among those honoured were oncologist Pavel Klener, Olympic medallist Dana Zatopkova, and Czech actor Jiri Kodet.
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.
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.
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.
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