The European Phare programme will contribute almost a million euros for projects focused on the Romany minority. The projects are organised by various non-governmental organisations, and are aimed mainly at integration of the Roma into the society and improving their education, employment and housing situation.
The eastward expansion of the European Union will prove a boon to flourishing organised crime groups, the European police agency Europol said in its annual report on organised crime. With border controls relaxing as the EU grows from 15 to 25 countries next May, Mafia-style groups will use new member states as bases for trafficking drugs and people. The report said powerful crime networks were getting increasingly sophisticated, moving away from the traditional, hierarchical model seen in Mafia movies and towards a cell-based structure that made it harder for police to find the top bosses. It said there were signs international crime groups were moving their activities to the EU newcomers, which were also becoming focal points for money laundering.
Two policemen who allegedly attacked a Romany family in May this year are to face trial, the newspaper Mlada fronta Dnes reported on Friday. The state attorney says that after around 30 Prague-based police officers had been drinking in a pub near the central Bohemian town of Jicin, a group of them forced their way into the Davis family's home, shouted racist abuse and beat up some family members. The Interior Ministry has already conducted an inquiry into the alleged incident; it found no evidence of racism. If found guilty in court, the two officers could face five up to years in prison.
The Czech cabinet decided late on Wednesday to take up Sweden's offer for 14 new JAS-39 Gripen fighter jets to replace the Czech Republic's aging fleet of Mig-21s to be retired at the end of next year. The government followed an earlier recommendation by a commission of experts that had ranked Sweden's offer first among five offers in a government tender. Those included proposals from Belgium, Holland, and the United States, offering modernised F-16 fighter jets which are used by most NATO countries. Following Hungary, the Czech Republic becomes the second NATO country to select Gripens, manufactured by BAE Systems/Saab. A spokesman for the Swedish defence material command said that the financial terms of the contract would depend on whether the Czech government decided to lease the fighter planes for five or 10 years. The first Gripens are expected to be operational in April 2005, with deliveries to the Czech Republic to be concluded by late August of the same year.
The Czech cabinet, in the midst of deciding amongst five proposals to replace the country's aging fleet of MiG-21 fighter jets, has indicated more time may be needed to reach a final decision. Earlier, it was expected the government would reach a decision on the purchase this Wednesday. However, some government officials have revealed an extraordinary government session may be needed to decide on the purchase later, Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla saying the matter was "too serious to decide in haste". In the government tender the Czech Republic received five offers on new fighter jets from countries including Sweden, Belgium, the U.S., and the Netherlands, with a commission of experts recommending in November that the Czech Air Force opt for Sweden's offer for 14 Gripen fighter jets, manufactured by Saab/BAE Systems. Since then, Belgium, the U.S., and the Netherlands have all expressed the desire to put forward what they called new and final bids, a possibility the Defence Ministry has rejected thus far.
The senate has passed a bill that should make public tenders more transparent in the Czech Republic. 42 out of 64 senators voted in favour with just 10 voting against; the bill will now move to the chamber of deputies. The bill on public tenders brings Czech legislation on tenders in line with EU regulations; its passing will open the door to over 70 billion crowns in European funds from Brussels over the next two years.
Petr Mach, the former president of Prague's first division football club Sparta Prague, has been granted an early release from prison. Mr Mach began serving a five year sentence for tax fraud in June 2001, after Mr Mach had failed to declare a luxury BMW automobile bought in Germany. His failure to declare the vehicle divested the state of more than 1.3 million crowns. Mr Mach's release decided by a Prague court must now be confirmed by a state attorney.
The senate has approved the continuing operation of Czech military missions in both Iraq and the Balkans. 500 Czech soldiers will continue to serve in the Balkans next year as well as 150 military police in Iraq. Both missions were supported by 49 out of 58 senators present on Wednesday, while three senators from the Communist Party and one member of the government senior Social Democratic Party voted against. The chamber of deputies will now vote on the issue on Thursday. In Iraq, Czech military police will mainly be in charge of training local police officers, while in the Balkans, Czech soldiers will continue operating within the Czech-Slovak KFOR battalion in north-east Kosovo. Their mission includes monitoring the 104 km long border between Kosovo and Serbia.
The Spolana chemical plant near Prague suffered a chemical leak on Wednesday during which a corrosive solution known as oleum escaped during routine cleaning measures, letting sulphuric oxide into the air. The plant treated the accident as a first degree chemical emergency; in the end no one was hurt and the leak did not reach beyond factory walls. Fire-fighters were called in at around noon to help in the clean-up.
The European Commissioner for Enlargement, Guenter Verheugen, has said everyone in Europe should pay a visit to the former Nazi concentration camp at Terezin, north of Prague. Mr Verheugen, speaking during a visit to the camp, said the people of Europe must be reminded that peace and democracy cannot be taken for granted. More than 150,000 Jews from throughout Europe were interned at Terezin, known in German as Theresienstadt, before being transported to death camps such as Auschwitz. Today the camp, which also housed Czech political prisoners, is a museum.
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