The first group of Czech reconnaissance troops who are to take part in the US led operation Enduring Freedom have arrived in Afghanistan. Few details have been made available to the press since the operation is veiled in secrecy but the Czech Defence Ministry spokesman Ladislav Sticha has confirmed that part of the special forces have reached their destination and are fulfilling their set tasks. The first combat forces deployed by the Czech military since World War II are taking part in the US led operation Enduring Freedom, combing the Afghan mountains for members of the terrorist organization Al Qaida.
The Czech government is to decide this weekend whether or not to grant civil servants so called 13th and 14th salaries, special end of year bonuses which were guaranteed by law in the past. A meeting between Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla and trade union leaders produced no tangible result on Friday night. Union leaders said Mr. Spidla had listened to their arguments but made no promises. Civil servants say their annual incomes would drop significantly without this supplement and have threatened various protest actions if the Cabinet fails to find the extra money. The Cabinet is to debate the issue at a special session on Sunday. Trade unions believe the outlooks are not good since most ministers support the payment of only symbolic end of year bonuses amounting to 10 percent of the monthly wage.
Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Stanislav Gross has rejected claims that Defence Minister Miroslav Kostelka plans to resign. Mr Gross said that the Social Democrat defence minister assured him on Thursday he would continue to lead the Army's ongoing reform process. Mr Gross reacted to a Czech Radio report, which said that various sources claimed Mr Kostelka was unhappy with the divided coalition government and would rather accept a diplomatic post than be a government minister.
The upper house of the Czech Parliament, the Senate, has turned down a bill stating that former Czechoslovak president Edvard Benes did outstanding service to the state. In a discussion preceding the vote, the senators did not dispute the service that president Benes rendered in establishing an independent Czechoslovakia but many pointed to his disputable role during the period of the Munich crisis in 1938 and during the Communist coup d'etat in 1948. A similar law commemorating the first Czechoslovak president, Tomas Garrigue Masaryk, was passed in 1930, and according to many senators was intended at the time to remain unique. Appeals to the Senate and the president to reject the bill have also been made by the Sudeten German Landsmannschaft who have long demanded the abolition of the decrees enacted by president Benes that expelled ethnic Germans from Czechoslovakia after World War Two. The senators made it clear, though, that their objections were not related to those appeals.
A plane carrying Czech President Vaclav Klaus was forced to turn back to its departure point of Lisbon on Thursday after a mechanical problem with the landing gear, Mr Klaus's office said. The president was flying on a Czech government plane from the Portuguese capital to the city of Oporto when the problem was detected shortly after takeoff. The plane turned back immediately and landed without incident. No injuries were reported. The CTK news agency reported that Mr Klaus said he never felt in danger during the incident.
Former Czech President Vaclav Havel has been forced to cancel all engagements for the next 10 days after falling ill with respiratory problems, his spokeswoman said on Thursday. Mr Havel, who is 67, is resting at home and is under the care of his personal physician. His spokeswoman did not say how serious his illness was, but added that Mr Havel had cancelled his programme as a precaution based on his doctor's advice. The playwright, the most prominent symbol of the Czech Republic and its "Velvet Revolution", was elected president after the 1989 overthrow of the Soviet-backed regime. He left his seat at Prague castle last year.
Slovak citizens living in the Czech Republic will not be able to vote in the forthcoming presidential election in Slovakia. The Slovak Embassy says Slovak citizens will have to travel home to Slovakia if they want to take part in the election, the first round of which is held on April 3rd. Slovaks make up the largest minority in the Czech Republic, with almost 200,000 people claiming Slovak nationality in the 2001 census. However not all of them have Slovak citizenship, meaning not all of them are eligible to vote.
The government has decided to sell its stakes in the Sokolovska uhelna and OKD coal mines, in what is the first major privatisation it has achieved in almost two years in office. Sokolovska uhelna is to be bought by Sokolovska tezebni, which is controlled by managers of its mines. The government's minority stake in the black coal company OKD is being bought by majority shareholder Karbon Invest.
The mayor of the central Bohemian town of Kladno, Milan Volf, has been remanded in custody on charges of abuse of office. Prosecutors accuse Mr Volf, a member of the right-of-centre Civic Democrats, of illegally transferring 40 million crowns from the town's budget to Kladno's ice hockey club. He also stands accused of buying himself an expensive Audi car without seeking the council's permission. Mr Volf could face three years in prison if found guilty of abuse of office.
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