The Cabinet on Wednesday also approved a bill on mandatory alcohol stamping, which is part of a broader effort to fight corruption and the "grey economy". The bill should help prevent tax evasion and generate more funds for the state budget. If approved by parliament the law would come into effect as of January 1st, 2005.
In view of recent developments, the Czech Foreign Ministry has advised Czech citizens to leave Iraq. Those who cannot leave the country have been advised to exercise extreme caution, to stay in their hotels and avoid travelling, as far as possible. The Czech humanitarian organisation, People in Need, has begun pulling its workers out of Iraq.
The Cabinet has approved an amendment to the energy law, setting a framework for the liberalization of the gas and electricity markets. The first stage of liberalization of the gas market is to come in January next year and should concern large buyers. The gas market should be fully liberalized by the end of 2006. The electricity market has already gone through three stages of liberalization, with full liberalization also scheduled for 2006. The law aims at raising competition on the energy market and should strengthen the position of consumers by enabling them to pick a supplier.
Behind the scenes negotiations continue to try to secure the release of three Czech journalists who were abducted by rebel insurgents in Iraq on Sunday. According to Iraqi minister Mufid Jazairi, the abduction of the three Czechs was a politically motivated action. Minister Jazairi, who is trying to negotiate their release, said his sources had assured him that the journalists had not been harmed. Although the Iraqi official was fairly optimistic on Tuesday predicting an early release, on Wednesday he admitted that the situation was very sensitive and was complicated by the taking of further hostages -French and German nationals -in the past 24 hours. Iraqi rebel groups are now holding around 40 foreign hostages in an attempt to destabilize the US-led coalition.
The Prague High Court has confirmed an eight year sentence for former foreign ministry official Karel Srba, found guilty of plotting to murder a journalist. Mr Srba was found guilty of planning to kill Sabina Slonkova, a top investigative reporter for the daily Mlada Fronta Dnes. The man hired to do the murder went to the police before the plan could be carried out.
Czech President Vaclav Klaus has recalled Marie Souckova from the post of Health Minister and has appointed Social Democrat Jozef Kubinyi in her place. Mr Kubinyi will be taking up the post on April 15. During the appointment ceremony at Prague Castle on Wednesday, President Klaus described the health ministry as an ailing institution, which has seen the highest number of ministers come and go, and whose state of health is even worse than that of the health sector it is supposed to reform.
The Chamber of Deputies has outvoted the Senate's veto on a bill stating that former Czechoslovak president Edvard Benes did outstanding service to the state. Several Senators voted against the bill, saying Mr Benes did not deserve a special law in his honour. Some have questioned Mr Benes' commitment to the state, due to his passive stance at the time of the 1938 Munich agreement, which allowed Hitler enter Czechoslovakia, and the Communist take-over in 1948. The bill is yet to be signed by President Vaclav Klaus, who has the right to reject it and send it back to the lower house.
Czech citizens have been advised to leave Iraq, following the abduction of tens of foreigners, including three Czech journalists. Those who cannot leave the country should stay at safe locations, Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda said on Tuesday. The Czech humanitarian organisation, People in Need, has begun pulling its workers out of Iraq.
More than three fifths of Czechs consider it a normal procedure to give bribes in the Czech Republic, the results of a study by the GfK (Growth from Knowledge) market research institute suggest. The study included fourteen Central and Eastern European states and ranks the Czech Republic and Slovakia in the top two places, with regards to levels of corruption. Eighty-one percent of the Czech respondents stated that politicians, state officials, and entrepreneurs support each other when it comes to taking bribes but only eighteen percent said they would be willing to report any cases of corruption to the police.
The three Czech journalists who have been kidnapped by rebel Iraqi
insurgents are alive and well and could be released as early as
Wednesday, the Iraqi Culture Minister Mufid Jazairi said on Tuesday.
Czech TV reporter Michal Kubal, his cameraman Petr Klima, and Czech
Radio correspondent Vit Pohanka, have been missing since Sunday. Both
Mr Kubal and Mr Klima where scheduled to catch a flight home from
Jordan but never arrived in Prague. An Iraqi taxi driver has reported
that he was on route to Amman, Jordan, with three Czech journalists
when his vehicle was stopped by rebels west of the town of Falluja, and
the three passengers were taken hostage.
Following a National Security Council meeting, Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda said that the Czech Foreign Ministry, Czech Embassy in Baghdad, as well as Mr Jazairi, who has personal ties with the Czech Republic, have been in constant contact with Iraqi officials. Several teams have also been investigating at the site where the abduction is believed to have taken place. A Czech military police force specially trained for hostage situations is waiting for orders to leave for Iraq. The Czech government is scheduled to discuss further security measures during its session on Wednesday.