The internet server Euro OnLine and the country's news agency CTK reported on Wednesday that the government had stopped the sale of the brown-coal mining company Severoceske doly, or North Bohemian Mines, even though Finance Minister Bohuslav Sobotka had proposed launching talks with the J & T company. As a result Severoceske doly will remain state-owned. Meanwhile, another brown-coal mining company Sokolovska uhelna, will be sold off: the government is in negotiations with one company, Sokolovaska tezebni, over the final bid.
Defence Minister Miroslav Kostelka has said he wants the Czech military to retain its current balance with regards to army units, while seeing a strengthening of specialisation fields. Speaking in the Senate on Wednesday on army reforms and defence policy, the defence minister stressed that smaller, well-equipped and more flexible and mobile units were desired over less wieldy forces. The minister also spoke about the role of NATO allies in case of emergency, stressing that each NATO country still had to be able to rely on its own abilities. Speaking of the necessary military reforms Mr Kostelka said it was essential to find necessary funds for modernisation and training by lowering expenditures for wages for soldiers and civilian employees, as well as reducing the number of garrisons in the Czech Republic.
Czech businessman Karel Komarek, majority owner of Fischer Travel, the firm originally founded by entrepreneur Vaclav Fischer, has gained firm control of the company for now. At a meeting of company shareholders Wednesday Mr Komarek pushed through a raise in Fischer Travel's share capital from 1 million to 11 million crowns. Vaclav Fischer, who did not take part in the share raise, loses influence over company operation for the time being. In the future minority shareholders Vaclav Fischer and Karel Komarek's capital group K & K will be able to raise the company's share level to increase their stakes to the level prior to Wednesday's general meeting, but Vaclav Fischer will be left without influence unless he raises far higher sums than he would have needed on Wednesday. New shareholder the K & K group has plans to still raise the company's share capital to 500 million crowns in 2004, while securing financing worth 500 million for the company's development.
The Roma Civic Initiative in the region of Moravia and Silesia may be faced with a heavy fine for failing to officially register humanitarian collections organised to help the Roma community in Slovakia. The Roma initiative has been collecting food, clothing, sanitary material, and money without the consent of the local authorities. Czech law requires that any collection of money has to have their permission. The Roma initiative may now have to pay a fine of up to half a million Czech crowns.
The world famous singer and songwriter Sir Paul McCartney, will be giving a concert in Prague within the framework of his O4 Summer Tour, during which he will be performing in 13 cities. The one time Beatles idol has not performed live in the Czech capital before. His Prague concert has been scheduled for June 6th. His summer tour also includes Lisbon, Madrid, Zurich, Leipzig, several concerts in Scandinavia and one in Russia's St. Petersburg.
The leading Czech beer brewer Pilsner Urquell has announced an increase in the price of Pilsner beer. This should send the price of bottled beer and beer on tap up by one crown per half a litre as of Monday. Pilsner Urquell controls 50 percent of the market and its decision is expected to set off a wave of price increases by other beer producers in the country.
In an interview for Czech Radio, President Vaclav Klaus criticized the Czech government for failing to adequately inform Czech citizens about the impact of EU accession on their everyday lives. The President who enjoys strong public support a year after taking office, said it was often the media not the governing coalition which informed Czechs about fundamental changes that EU membership would bring. Mr. Klaus also criticized the government on a number of other counts and said that only new elections could bring about a radical change since the current distribution of forces in the ruling coalition did not offer any overly-optimistic perspectives. Commenting on the choice of Pavel Telicka for the country's first European Commissioner, the President said he was "a typical civil servant, proficient in the EU environment" but that disturbingly, his views were unknown. Although he is not unknown, as a person he is a blank card and that is not good, Mr. Klaus said.
Czech forwarding firms and customs agents ended their one day strike on Friday night, slamming the government's unwillingness to negotiate their demands and saying that a future blockade of the border could come without warning. The strike affected eight of the country's busiest border crossings with Germany and Slovakia, resulting in confusion and long pile ups. However due to early warnings of the strike many truck drivers opted to pass through other check points. The association of forwarding firms and customs agents wants the government to compensate forwarding companies that will have to sack up to 1,500 employees after Czech accession to the EU. The government has refused to do so, saying that it is only prepared to finance re-qualification courses for laid off employees.
The Czech president, Vaclav Klaus, has written a letter to his Austrian counterpart, Tomas Klestil, protesting at statements made by an Austrian Sudeten German organisation. The Austrian Sudeten German Landsmannschaft said it was "surprised" by the recent passing of a Czech law honouring President Edvard Benes, under whom Czechoslovakia's German minority were expelled after World War II. The Sudeten Germans said Mr Benes had brought servitude and 40 years of communism to the Czech nation. In his letter to Mr Klestil, President Klaus said he could not believe the Sudetens' comments.
A 48-hour strike of the Czech Republic's train drivers due to begin on March 1 has been called off, after unions reached an agreement with Czech Rail on Friday. The national rail carrier gave in to union demands to change the pay conditions of some drivers from the beginning of next month, a union spokesman told reporters, adding that many other issues remained to be discussed with Czech Rail's management.
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