Finance Minister Bohuslav Sobotka hopes to reduce the state budget deficit to 100 billion Czech crowns by 2005 from the 115 billion that has been approved for this year. In a TV Prima programme on Sunday, he said the government plans to lower the deficit gradually to reach 100 billion Czech crowns next year, and go well below that figure by 2006. The government should be successful if its public finance reform plan is met, Mr Sobotka noted. But according to Vlastimil Tlusty from the opposition Civic Democrats, the state budget deficit will still be too high to meet the requirements for the adoption of the Euro. The Maastricht Treaty criteria that governs entry to the currency union allows a deficit no higher than 3% of the GDP.
In a TV discussion programme on Sunday, Czech President Vaclav Klaus said the Czech Republic's representative in the European Commission should be a former government minister, the minimum age for a judge should be raised, and took the opportunity to sharply criticise the state of the economy. Speaking on TV Nova's Sedmicka programme, Mr Klaus said the growth of the Czech economy was too slow because it was over-regulated and added that businesses and entrepreneurs should not have to face a much higher taxing system than those in neighbouring countries.
Cardinal Miloslav Vlk and Bishop Karel Herbst held mass in Prague's Archbishop Palace on Saturday to bless a yearly nationwide charity collection that begins this weekend. The collection, which is being organised for the fourth year by the Czech Catholic Charity, is launched at the weekend before the festival of Epiphany, known here as Three Kings Day, celebrated on January 6. On this day, according to the St.Mathew's gospel, the Three Wise Men followed the Star of Bethlehem to find the Infant Jesus and bring him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Over thirteen thousand volunteers are expected to go out and collect donations this year. The proceeds will be used to support a number of humanitarian projects in several regions around the country as well as in Kosovo, Chechnya and earthquake-hit Iran. Last year, a total of 42.7 million Czech crowns (over 1.5 million US dollars) was collected.
Residents from the North Bohemian town of Teplice and its surroundings are commemorating the 70th anniversary of a tragic accident that took place at the nearby Nelson u Oseku coal mine. 144 miners lost their lives on January 3, 1934, after gathered coal-dust exploded. What led to the explosion was never determined. The accident is the second worst coal mine accident in the country's history.
Over 20,000 dentists, pharmacists, and doctors who are not tied to hospitals will stop working for one hour on Tuesday. Their doors will be closed to patients from 11.00 to 12.00 hrs, in protest at the Czech government's failure to meet their needs during its reform of the health sector. The Czech government has promised to allocate 3.4 billion Czech crowns to hospitals and 3 billion crowns to health insurance companies. Doctors, dentists, and pharmacists who are not attached to hospitals say their problems are not being considered and hope Tuesday's protest act will attract government attention.
A fire that broke out on Saturday afternoon destroyed two houses in the historic centre of the little East Bohemian town of Litomysl. The houses were located just a few metres away from Smetana Square, named after Czech composer Bedrich Smetana who was born in Litomysl. Fire-fighters managed to rescue two people and a dog. No-one was hurt and the fire left an estimated damage of 1.1 million Czech crowns. What caused the fire is yet to be determined.
Bohumil Vejtasa, a representative of the Group for the Open Democracy at the town hall for Prague 1, has said he would continue with a hunger-strike that he has been on for the past three weeks. Mr Vejtasa decided to stop eating in order to force town hall officials from the ruling coalition parties to consult matters with colleagues from the opposition and keep them from making decisions that do not benefit the Prague 1 district. So far, Mr Vejtasa has lost ten kilograms.
Former Czech president Vaclav Havel is expected to travel to Taiwan this month, after accepting an invitation from its President Chen Shui-bian, the Foreign Ministry said on Saturday. From January 17-24, Mr Havel, who is also a dedicated human rights activist and a playwright, is scheduled to meet with President Chen, deliver a speech at a forum organised by the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy, accept an honorary doctorate from National Chengchi University and attend a discussion with Taiwan writers and artists. He will be accompanied by his wife Dagmar.
Czech President Vaclav Klaus and the country's Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla have agreed on what they termed a common initiative towards the Czech parliament regarding the upcoming European Union enlargement. The two politicians met on Friday at the presidential chateau at Lany to discuss a number of current issues over lunch. Both officials were accompanied by their wives. After their meeting, Mr Klaus and Mr Spidla said they would like to establish a tradition of annual meetings of the president and the prime minister at the beginning of each year.