Members of the Visegrad Youth Confederation met in Prague on Monday to start a five-day discussion forum on cooperation of the Visegrad Group after European Union enlargement. A failure to adopt the European Constitution due to Poland's objections to its draft form showed that the Visegrad countries - Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary - will have their own, separate priorities in the EU, despite their common communist past. Until Friday, conference participants tackle the question how and whether the common Central European identity and roots can be stronger than differing economic and political interests after all four join the EU on May 1.
Czech President Vaclav Klaus has been busy promoting Czech-Chinese business relations as part of his eleven-day trip to China, which he began last week. Mr Klaus attended the Shanghai-Czech economic forum on China's east coast, organised by the Shanghai Industry Federation, was at a signing of a 120 million crown contract for the supply of turbines from the Czech company Skoda Energo to Guangzhou Enterprise, and had lunch with representatives of the local Chamber of Commerce. Before heading for central China, Mr Klaus also visited the Pudong New Area special economic zone. Mr Klaus, who is the first Czech president to visit China, is now in Chengdu in the Sichuan Province, after which he is expected in Beijing. One of his final activities during the trip will be his participation in the Boao Forum for Asia (BFA) international conference, which will be held in China's southern Hainan Province.
The environmental organisation Greenpeace has launched an information campaign in the Czech Republic in hope of gaining support for a petition calling onto the Czech Republic to join the International Whaling Commission (IWC), which governs the conduct of whaling throughout the world. Greenpeace organisers have inflated a large rubber whale in front of Prague's Municipal House, where passers-by can sign the petition and see an exhibition on the life of whales and dolphins. The two-week information campaign will be held in Prague, Pilsen, Ceske Budejovice, Pardubice, Brno, Ostrava, and finally in Olomouc.
Lower House deputies will most likely postpone Tuesday's vote on a government bill on VAT that was vetoed by Czech President Vaclav Klaus. With two MPs in hospital, the ruling coalition, made up of the Social Democrats (CSSD), the Christian Democrats (KDU-CSL) and the Freedom Union (US-DEU), would not have the 101 votes necessary to get a majority in the lower house and override the presidential veto. Independent deputy Petr Kott, who was expelled from the opposition Civic Democrats (ODS) last year, has promised to support the bill. The coalition hopes to vote on the bill on Thursday, when Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda will be released from hospital and healthy enough to participate.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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