A 30-metre tall Christmas tree crashed to the ground during high winds at an open-air Christmas market filled with tourists and shoppers in Prague's historic Old Town Square on Saturday morning, injuring four people, two of them foreign tourists. Prague rescue officials said a 100 km/h gust of wind snapped the tree, sending it plunging down into the stalls of several vendors at the market. A spokesman for the Prague rescue department said two people suffered broken bones when the tree landed on them, while two others, including a child, had cuts and bruises. Strong winds also hit East Bohemia and North Moravia on Saturday.
Reports from the United States say although the US respects the decision of an expert commission recommending to the Czech government to lease the Swedish-British Gripen military aircraft, it has not given up its efforts to supply US F-16s or F-18s to the Czech Republic. Lack of transparency was reportedly the reason why the United States and other participants in the first tender called by the previous government led by Milos Zeman eventually pulled out. The government then decided that the Czech Republic would buy the Gripen aircraft but last year's floods thwarted the plan. The Americans are now waiting for the Czech cabinet's decision that should be made by the end of this year.
A German couple have received probation of eight and six months respectively for providing videos of underage girls stripping over the internet. Their firm would hire girls to strip and provide sexual services to customers in a studio in Kraslice, west Bohemia which would then be offered through live feeds over the internet to customers in Germany. At least six of the girls had not yet reached the age of 18. The couple defended themselves saying that the girls acted on their own will. Both the man and the woman faced three years in prison for threatening the morals of minors and threatening public morality. The court ordered them to pay a fine of 130,000 crowns.
The deputy chairman of the junior coalition party, the Freedom Union-DEU Ratibor Majzlik said on Saturday that the DEU or Democratic Union platform was leaving the party. Mr Majzlik made his announcement at this weekend's party conference, which was to complete the integration of the Freedom Union and the DEU. To explain the move, Mr Majzlik said a 300-member faction disapproved of the participation of the Freedom Union-DEU in the Social-Democrat-led government. Mr Majzlik announced the departure after failing to push through his proposal that a new leadership of the Freedom Union-DEU be elected. Freedom Union leaders say that in the long run, the departure of Mr Majzlik's faction is not going to have any negative effects on the party as a whole.
The Chamber of Deputies has approved the government's state budget for 2004, including a record deficit of 115 billion crowns, or more than 4.2 billion US dollars. The budget was supported by 98 out of 198 deputies present, with 95 deputies from the opposition Civic Democratic Party and Communists voting against. The 115 billion crown deficit was proposed by the government of Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla as part of a sweeping, multi-year budget reform package. Parliament has already given a green light to other reform measures including sales tax increases and corporate tax cuts which take effect next month. The deficit, based on a budget with 754 billion crowns in expected revenues and 869 billion crowns in expenses, is around 4 per cent higher than this year's record spending gap. Overall, the prime minister hopes to bring the deficit under control over the next three years so that the Czech Republic can qualify for changing its currency to the euro before 2010. Meanwhile, the approved budget for 2004 must still be signed by President Vaclav Klaus.
Some 300 Czech students gathered in Prague on Wednesday to protest against what they see as government under-financing of Czech universities. Students met at Prague's Charles University before marching to the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies, carrying various banners and signs, while police looked on. In front of the Lower House students handed Waltr Bartos, the head of the Lower House's commission on Education, a document outlining their view on the state-of-affairs. They also addressed the education minister, Petra Buzkova, on her way to proceedings. Wednesday's protest followed a similar meeting on Tuesday that took place in the east Moravian city of Olomouc.
Czech police have said they arrested four traffickers from a major narcotics gang, following a nationwide series of raids on Wednesday. The four, police say, include the alleged kingpin of the Europe-based organisation. Police spokeswoman Blanka Kosinova revealed that the traffickers were believed to have smuggled almost 240 kilos of heroin - some 2.5 million doses, along with 19 kilos of cocaine, from the Czech Republic to other European countries. Names and other details on the suspects have not been released. In all police raided 12 locations Wednesday, including the alleged gang leader's luxury Prague home. Confiscated were guns, vehicles, cash, fake documents and bullet-proof vests. The police operation, dubbed 'Operation Titanium' saw Czech officials co-operate with Austrian and Italian authorities. Now, each of the suspects in custody could face up to 15 years in prison.
President Vaclav Klaus - speaking during an official visit to Sweden - has said the disadvantages of the euro outweigh the advantages. In a speech to the Swedish Parliament, President Klaus said the euro was created purely for political reasons and not economic necessity. Mr Klaus also said that in his opinion the results of deeper European integration had fallen well below expectations. The Czech government says it wants the country to adopt the single European currency by the end of the decade. Sweden is one of three European Union countries not to have adopted the euro.
Meanwhile President Klaus also held talks with the Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson. The two men discussed the possible leasing of Swedish-made Gripen jet fighters for the Czech Air Force. On Monday a Czech commission made up of five ministries recommended to the cabinet that the air force should lease the planes from Gripen. The country must replace its fleet of ageing MiGs by the end of 2004.
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