Tens of thousands of civil servants staged a one-hour protest strike Wednesday over cuts in their salary bonuses, with Czech unions estimating more than 200, 000 civil servants took part. Workers are angry over the government's decision to pay them only 10 percent, instead of the usual 50 percent, of the so-called 13th month bonus. State workers, and some private sector employees, in the Czech Republic have traditionally received two bonuses each year equal to a half of a month's wages, known as 13th and 14th pay. On Wednesday hospitals, schools, libraries and museums joined the protest by keeping their doors closed one hour later than usual. Alena Vondrova, chairwoman of the Union of Public Sector Employees told news agencies that the strike showed the government public civil servants would not accept the cuts in silence.
The National Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Abuse has released a warning about the incidence of a dangerous and unknown synthetic substance that poisoned two in Prague on April 15th: capsules with powder apparently similar in make-up to Lysergic acid diethylamide, or LSD. Eva Skrdlantova of the centre said on Wednesday there was reason to suspect the capsules contained an as yet unknown hallucinogenic substance that could be highly dangerous and even life-threatening. Meanwhile, blood-tests on the two users showed the presence of both cocaine and metabolites in the bloodstream. Tests are underway to determine the exact nature of the substance.
Czech military police stationed at an academy in the town of Zubair, near Basra, were lucky to escape injury on Wednesday after a blast - a car bombing - went off outside academy headquarters, killing four and injuring nine. At the time of the attack members of the Czech contingent were inside the base and out of harm's way; even so after Wednesday security is expected to be heavily increased. The attack on the academy in Zubair was only part of a series of coordinated and devastating suicide bombings in and around Basra on the day that claimed at least 68 lives. Czech military police in the southern city of Basra, which is under British control, have been serving in the area since the beginning of the year.
Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda hospitalised since suffering a serious neck injury in a car accident last week, is to be air-lifted to Prague from Brno on Thursday to take part in a crucial vote in the Chamber of Deputies. The government coalition, which enjoys just the slimmest of majorities in Parliament, will be trying to pass a crucial VAT bill ahead of European accession. The bill, which aims to reduce the current VAT rate from 22 to 19 percent, was vetoed just last month by President Vaclav Klaus. Foreign Ministry spokesman Vit Kolar meanwhile said on Wednesday that preparations to get Mr Svoboda to the Chamber were being fine-tuned. On Thursday Mr Svoboda is expected to arrive in Prague at 11 a.m. and will be taken to the Chamber of Deputies by ambulance, accompanied by medical professionals.
The Czech Republic is to reopen its diplomatic mission in North Korea in the coming months, in order to play a greater part in solving the nuclear crisis on the Korean peninsula, Deputy Foreign Minister Petr Kolar said on Tuesday. The Czechs closed their mission in North Korea in the early 1990s, shortly after the collapse of communism in eastern Europe. The prime ministers of South Korea and Japan last year called on the Czech Republic to help mediate in the crisis. The Czech Communist Party is said to have maintained its contacts with North Korea, which has an embassy in Prague.
A crucial Chamber of Deputies vote on a bill to reduce the top VAT rate
from 22 to 19 percent has been postponed until Thursday. All Chamber
business has been postponed to allow the foreign minister, Cyril Svoboda,
more time to recover from a recent neck operation. The government, which
has a majority of just one in the 200-seat Chamber, needs Mr Svoboda's
vote to overturn a veto on the bill by President Vaclav Klaus. The
minister is expected to fly to Prague by helicopter from his hospital in
Brno to take part in the vote.
The government say the change must be adopted to bring the VAT rate in the Czech Republic into line with that of European Union countries by accession on May 1. However, Mr Klaus's party, the Civic Democrats, say the bill is a mishmash in which the government meets EU requirements but also adds price increases of its own.
A group of nine deputies from four parties have submitted a bill to the Chamber of Deputies allowing for registered homosexual partnerships. Vlastimil Ostry of the Freedom Union said the legislation should be debated in June. Tana Fisherova, also of the Freedom Union, said the proposed bill had a greater chance of success than previous attempts, because it had been signed by representatives of almost all the parties in the Lower House. The Chamber has rejected same-sex partnerships three times in the past.
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.
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.
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