Some 2,500 students and professors marched through the centre of Prague on Thursday afternoon to protest against the lack of finances at Czech universities. The protest march is the last of a number of events staged by students this week named the "week of unrest", to pressure the government into releasing more funds for the education sector. The students from Prague were joined by their peers from the towns of Olomouc, Pilsen, Usti nad Labem, Hradec Kralove, and Liberec. The Chairman of Charles University's Academic Senate, Vaclav Hampl, argues that under the given conditions, Czech universities will not be able to compete with other European universities after the country's accession to the European Union, as the quality of education in the Czech Republic will suffer a serious setback.
Former Czech finance and education minister Ivan Pilip, has confirmed that he is to become one of the seven vice- presidents of the European Investment Bank (EIB) on May 1. According to EIB vice-president Wolfgang Roth, Mr Pilip will be in charge of the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland, which along with seven more countries become EIB shareholders as of May 1, when they join the European Union. Mr Roth, who has up-to-date been in charge of the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland at the EIB, will cover other Central European countries such as Austria. The EIB is one of the biggest players on global financial markets. It is controlled by EU member countries, which means it can borrow cheaply and grant cheap loans, mostly to countries and regions.
The Senate has approved the nomination of seven of the twenty-four provisional deputies, who will be representing the Czech Republic in the European Parliament in the period between the country's accession to the EU on May 1 and July 20 when regular deputies are scheduled to assume their posts. The twenty-four Czech MEPs will be elected in the June 11-12 elections, in which the Czech Republic will take part for the first time as a full-fledged EU member. The remaining seventeen provisional deputies are expected to be nominated by the Lower House next Tuesday.
More than twenty international banks have been asked to submit bids to lead manage the Czech Republic's debut sovereign euro bond issue, Deputy Finance Minister Eduard Janota told Reuters news agency on Thursday. The Czech Republic is looking to tap international markets for about one billion euros through a 10-year bond issue in June, about a month after it joins the European Union. According to Mr Janota, the ministry will make a short list and choose one or two lead managers by the end of this month at the latest. The Czech euro bond offering is expected to set a benchmark for sovereign debt of the country, which - unlike its central European peers - has no outstanding sovereign foreign bonds. Apart from this, the finance ministry also wants to open up a new borrowing channel and ease pressure on the domestic market, increasingly saturated by fast growing state debt. Czech government debt accounted for 37.6 percent of gross domestic product last year, under EU criteria, and is seen rising further in the years to come due to fiscal deficits.
Some thirty North Korean seamstresses disrupted a Czech TV crew on Thursday, which was filming outside their place of employment in the town of Skutec, near Chrudim, east Bohemia. The attack came in reaction to reports in the Czech media that the seamstresses were being mistreated by their own embassy. The crowd of women surrounded the crew members, who had been taping interviews with passers-by, pushing, scratching, and even throwing rocks at them. No one was seriously hurt but the cameraman did suffer light injuries. The crew's camera was damaged after being seized by the women who took it inside the company. It was only returned after the arrival of police; the videotape in the camera had been removed. Police are now investigating the incident and have arrested three of the seamstresses.
The Rossmann pharmacy chain has been ordered by a Prague court to pay 50, 000 crowns as well as offer a formal apology to compensate for discriminating against a Czech Romany woman. Renata Kotlarova was discriminated against by the multi-national company when she applied for work at one of the chain's stores in Cheb but was refused point blank and not given a requisite interview. Mrs Kotlarova filed suit against the multi-national firm with the aid of the Prague-based Counselling Centre for Citizenship, Civil, and Human Rights. The organisation sent one of its employees carrying a hidden tape recorder into the store to apply for the same job. Unlike the Romany woman, however, she was given a regular job interview, although she presented identical job qualifications.
During a conference on Afghanistan in Berlin on Wednesday Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda met American Secretary of State Colin Powell, discussing Czech military commitment in Afghanistan and the Czech Republic's role in the continuing war on terror. The Czech foreign minister assured Mr Powell that the Czechs would continue in Afghanistan with 109 Special Forces troops taking part in the U.S.-led operation "Enduring Freedom" and additional soldiers taking part in the ISAF peacekeeping operation. Mr Svoboda also told journalists on Wednesday that the Czech government was interested in finding funds to help in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, for instance in building and renewing the country's cement works. However, for now it remains unclear whether the Czech government will be able to find the necessary funds for the project.
The Lower House of Parliament on Wednesday voted in favour of raising TV and radio license fees to 100 crowns and 45 crowns a month respectively. This fee is to be paid by all households regardless of whether they do or do not own a television and radio receiver. The proposed amendment also envisages less advertising time for public broadcaster Czech TV - a reduction to 0.8 percent from the present 1 percent of overall broadcasting time. The bill was approved by a one vote majority and has been strongly criticized by the opposition. It must now pass through the Senate and then be signed by the president.
The commander of the Czech contingent in Iraq Jiri Neubauer has revealed that Czech military police have trained some 1,200 Iraqi police since the end of last year. Mr Neubauer made the announcement on Wednesday just as a group of Czechs returned home after their first two-month stay in Iraq. Apart from their training mission, the Czech instructors, who are based near the southern Iraqi city of Basra, have also been involved in the fight against terrorism and policing duties. On Wednesday, 35 from a total of 80 Czech troops in Iraq returned home and will be now replaced. Meanwhile, four Iraqi children, aged between seven and fourteen, set to undergo surgery in the Czech Republic, also arrived on the contingent flight.
On a visit to Finland, the Czech Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla criticized movement of labour restrictions within the enlarged EU. Of all the EU member states only Britain and Ireland have opened their labour markets to the newcomers. The Czech Prime Minister said the restrictions introduced against the new EU countries were ungrounded and based on prejudice. The Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen countered that although his country had introduced a two year restriction period it is at the same time very flexible in granting labour permits. 8o% of all applications submitted have been granted, he said.