Three Czech journalists who were kidnapped and held hostage in Iraq last week have returned to Prague early on Sunday. Czech Television reporter Michal Kubal, cameraman Petr Klima and Czech Radio reporter Vit Pohanka flew home on board a special Defence Ministry aircraft that had been sent to retrieve them from Iraq. The journalists had been held hostage since last Sunday at an unknown location in Iraq after being captured on their way from Baghdad to Jordan, and were released on Friday.
Czech politicians have congratulated Ivan Gasparovic on his election to the post of Slovak president. Mr. Gasparovic beat controversial former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar. Gasparovic, who once was one of Meciar's closest allies, received 60 percent of the vote. The Czech Lower House speaker Lubomir Zaoralek said Slovaks decided for a better political image of their country while Czech opposition leader Mirek Topolanek sees the Slovak election result as a choice of a lesser evil. Gasparovic, 63, a lawyer by profession, will become the third Slovak president when he replaces Rudolf Schuster in about two months' time.
Labour and Social Affair Minister Zdenek Skromach suggested that a government-sponsored bill on property declarations is so important that the government may link it with a confidence vote in Parliament. The bill, aimed at fighting tax evasions and money laundering, has caused controversy within the ruling coalition. Some ministers for the senior government Social Democrats have been trying to make the law retroactive, which is unacceptable for the other two parties. The opposition Communist Party had previously indicated it was willing to support a stricter version of the law. However, the Freedom Union said that if the legislation were pushed through with the help of the Communists, it would mean an end of the ruling coalition.
Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda underwent a neck operation on
Saturday at the Brno Hospital after two days of monitoring and
treatment. Mr. Svoboda sustained injuries in a car accident on
Thursday. Doctors said Mr. Svoboda was recovering well from the
injuries and will most likely stay in the hospital for one or two
weeks. That means that Svoboda will probably not be able to participate
in a key vote on a VAT bill in the Lower House.
Meanwhile, police have ruled out alcohol as a factor in the accident, which took place when the driver lost control of the minister's vehicle in a difficult turn. All three in the car were injured, but none of the injuries - including the foreign minister's - were life-threatening.
The ruling Social Democrats have been seeking support from the opposition
Communist Party for its bill on VAT that President Vaclav Klaus vetoed
recently. The government needs 101 votes in the lower house to override
the presidential veto but lacks two MPs because of their health condition.
The junior opposition Communist Party reiterated on Saturday that none of
the party's deputies will vote for the bill in question. Finance Minister
Bohumil Sobotka hopes to persuade the Communists to change their minds and
invited party leaders for talks next week.
The VAT bill would lower the basic VAT level from 22 to 19 percent and move a number of items from the preferential five-percent rate to the upper bracket. Failure to pass the bill would seriously complicate Czech trade with fellow EU countries after May 1.
President Vaclav Klaus, on an eleven-day state visit to China, has met with Hong Kong's Chief Executive Tung Chee Hwa. The two discussed political and economic ties, with the Czech president saying Hong Kong could serve as an illustration for China's development in the future, stressing it was important to establish contacts with political and business representatives. Mr Klaus is also quoted as saying Chief Executive Tung Chee Hwa had praised the Czech Republic as the only EU accession country to have established a business representative office in Hong Kong.
Three Czech journalists kidnapped in Iraq last Sunday have been released
and are now safe at the Czech embassy in Baghdad. Czech TV's Michal Kubal,
cameraman Petr Klima, and Czech Radio correspondent Vit Pohanka, were
kidnapped by insurgents while en route to Amman, Jordan last Sunday,
suffering an intense six days captive at the hands of unknown assailants.
Before this Friday's breakthrough release Czech diplomatic authorities had
tried in vain to establish contact with the insurgents. Correspondent Vit
Pohanka spoke with Czech Radio Friday afternoon saying he and his
colleagues were in good condition and were ready to return to the Czech
"All of us are alright we are in good psychological shape, although as you can imagine there were moments when we didn't feel so great. The main thing was that we were all together. Now we're okay and look forward to everything being sorted out."
Vit Pohanka was also asked by Czech Radio if he and his colleagues had had any contact at all with any of the other foreigners being held in captivity in Iraq:
"No. we were completely isolated. It wasn't even clear who our abductors were. At first we just thought we were being stopped by some locals. No one told us a thing and we had no idea what was going on."
Czech veterinarians say they may have uncovered the 10th case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy or mad cow disease, in the Czech Republic. A six and a half-year-old specimen in East Bohemia may have the disease; according to State Veterinary Administration head Josef Holejsovsky the results of control tests could be made public next Tuesday. On Fridayspokesman Josef Duben said vets had banned the movement of any animals from the farm under suspicion, a number of animals are now to be slaughtered as a preventive step. Altogether, some 1,600 cows have been slaughtered in relation to the nine BSE cases detected to date. The first Czech BSE case was detected in June 2001.
Deputy foreign minister Petr Kolar has meanwhile revealed that one of
the factors instrumental to the Czech journalists' release was a
diplomatic meeting by the Czech ambassador to Iraq Martin Klepteko with
Muslim spiritual leaders. Mr Kolar also praised Czech Muslim
representatives for a letter of appeal they sent showing solidarity
with the abducted men, asking for the journalists' release. On Friday
Mr Kolar spoke with Radio Prague about how and when the journalists
would return home.
"The problem is that our jet is not allowed to land in Baghdad because of the security reasons and technical reasons. So, we are probably going to focus on Basra now - to take them to Basra and then have our jet fly there to take them home. So, I hope it is a question of one or two days."
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