The centrist Christian Democratic Party, a junior member of the Czech ruling coalition, is holding its annual meeting this weekend to elect new leaders. The current chairman, foreign minister Cyril Svoboda, has led the party for more than two years and is running for the post again, with slightly higher chances of succeeding than his three rivals.
The Czech union of WWII forced labourers has decided to dissolve itself after 14 years of existence next June. The union has around 40 thousand members, most of whom are 80 or older. Chairman Karel Ruzicka said at the union's convention on Saturday that the leadership was no longer able to manage such a large organisation. At the same time, there was no one among the delegates willing to take over. Most of the WWII victims of Nazism are receiving full-scale compensation these days. Some members of the union, such as those forced by the Nazis to work in facilities producing the V1 and V2 rockets said they had been associating for years and would not stop after the union dissolves, even though many of them die every year.
The Czech army has closed down its sixth field hospital, which won recognition for its deployment in the Balkan conflict, in Albania, in Turkey ravaged by an earth quake, and especially in Afghanistan where it operated shortly after the ousting of Taliban, and most recently in Iraq. The daily Mlada fronta Dnes quoted Defence Minister Miroslav Kostelka as blaming empty coffers. He admitted though that it was a very painful step but said the Czech Republic could not afford to keep three military field hospitals, so it was scrapping one.
A delegation of US businessmen led by U.S. deputy trade secretary Joseph Bogosian visited Czech aircraft maker Aero Vodochody with the aim of helping the troubled company, in which US Boeing has a decisive influence, to find new markets. Bogosian said that growth is the only answer for Aero Vodochody and the Czech government and the US administration together with Boeing will cooperate to make Aero grow and to find new markets for L-159 planes. Aero Vodochody is already making supplies for Boeing's F-18 jet fighters. However, despite promises, the American investor has so far failed to find markets for Aero's own products, namely the sub-sonic L-159 multi-purpose combat aircraft.
The coalition government's health care commission has come up with two options of possible assistance to indebted regional hospitals. After a meeting that ended late Wednesday night, Health Minister Marie Souckova did not specify the alternatives, saying only that they would depend on the financial results of the hospitals, their liabilities and obligations. She added that the leaders of the governing parties should receive the proposals next week. The government commission was set up to find ways of stabilising the financial situation in the health care sector by the end of 2003. This means shortening the payment schedule of health insurance companies and resolving the debts of hospitals, which were transferred to the regions by the government in January.
Czech police said on Thursday they were holding three men who had attempted to smuggle 2.5 kg of the plastic explosive Semtex, a gun and other items into neighbouring Austria. Experts said the amount of Semtex - a powerful Czech-made explosive with a record of being used by terrorist groups - was enough to bring down an aircraft. A police spokeswoman said the group tried to cross the border in a car late on Wednesday evening. All were carrying Czech passports.
The Senate has decided that the salaries of senior officials should be frozen for the next three years at 46,500 crowns. The bill was submitted by the coalition government as part of a package of public finance reforms. Initially, the Senate's constitutional law committee had proposed the pay should increase to close to 60,000 crowns per month on the grounds of lowering the difference between politicians' salaries and those in the civil service. The law on freezing the pay of elected representatives was passed in the Senate by 40 out of 69 senators present, after a heated debate between supporters of the government proposal and opponents of the present payment system.
After nine years of participation in the Senate, Senators for the Communist Party have formed their own senators' group. The group also includes two independent senators: the former director of the commercial TV station Nova Vladimir Zelezny and Jaroslav Kubin. Mr Zelezny and Mr Kubin, like the three Communist senators, have so far acted outside the group structure as non-affiliated. Their group, the sixth senators' group, bears the same name - Non-affiliated. The five senators say they are seeking to have the same advantageous conditions as other senators. For example, each club receives a monthly allowance of almost 32,000 crowns from the Senate budget and in addition, an allowance of over 4,000 crowns per member a month and the group head has an office car at his or her disposal.
The European Commission has published its annual progress report on 10 EU candidate countries, the last before they are due to join the union in May of 2004. The report says that although the "newcomers" have made great progress in implementing EU norms and regulations there are serious concerns in 39 specific sectors relating to movement of people, farm payments and health and sanitation standards. The Czech Republic has been urged to speed up the approval of laws relating to recognition of diplomas, road transport and farm aid systems. The EC is also unhappy with the steep deficit in public finances and the high level of corruption in the Czech Republic.
Liechtenstein has said it will sign the agreement on an expanded European Economic Area despite its earlier refusal to do so because of open disputes with the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Lichtenstein threw a damper on hopes of creating a large area of free trade, finance and travel in Europe, when it walked away from the agreement a few weeks ago. Norway and Iceland also refused to sign in a show of solidarity. The refusal came after the Czech Republic and Liechtenstein crossed swords over sensitive SWW issues. Liechtenstein demanded that the Czech Republic open the door to property claims by its citizens relating to past confiscation of land and property - a demand that Prague refused to comply with. Liechtenstein said on Wednesday that it did not want to block progress on European integration and would sign the agreement, along with Norway and Iceland. Its officials have stressed however that this does not signify any change in position regarding the unresolved SWW issues.
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