Over 500 food processing plants in the Czech Republic have been closed down for failing to comply with EU regulations. The facilities, mainly beef, poultry, egg, fish and milk processing plants, failed to meet strict hygiene standards and other rules adopted by the Czech government ahead of the country's entry into the EU in May. The EU had issued several warnings that this would happen if EU norms were not met, but many producers failed to comply arguing that they lacked the finances needed.
Archbishop Diego Causero is to be the new Papal nuncio in the Czech Republic. He will replace Erwin Josef Ender, who is now working in Germany. Archbishop Causero is the third ambassador of the Vatican to Prague in the history of the Czech Republic. He was previously posted in Syria and Chad and is due to arrive in Prague in mid March.
A Czech humanitarian aid convoy has arrived in Bam, southern Iran where it will spend around ten days helping quake victims. The convoy of three off-road vehicles and nine volunteer workers have brought power generators, medical supplies, disinfectants and water-purification tablets. They will be giving aid directly to the survivors, travelling outside Bam to remote villages. The convoy is being assisted by representatives of the Iranian Red Crescent.
Austrian anti-nuclear activists have announced their intention to resume border blockades in protest of the Temelin nuclear power plant is southern Bohemia. A spokesman for the Stop Temelin platform in Austria said the next blockade would take place at the Halamky-Gmuend Neunagelberg crossing on January 17th and should last for about three hours, starting mid-day. The main goal of the border blockade is to protest against alleged efforts by the power utility CEZ, the operator of Temelin, to keep a recent technical breakdown secret.
Roads were blocked and many flights were cancelled on Wednesday amid heavy snowfall in the Czech Republic. Most of the country's motorways were cleared by mid-morning, but mountain roads especially in the north and northwest of the country remain blocked. Morning commuters had tough journeys in Prague, where slippery conditions were blamed for a number of accidents. More than 20 flights were cancelled and many others delayed at Prague's Ruzyne Airport. Among the cancellations were regular flights to Paris, Brussels and Vienna. Meteorologists said much of the snow would melt by the weekend as temperatures gradually rise above freezing.
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.
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.
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.
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.