Just a week before the Czech Republic remains set to join the European Union in a wave of historic expansion, Czech President Vaclav Klaus has spoken at the Asian economic forum on the island of Po-ao, China, discussing the future of the EU. On Saturday the Czech president assured delegates that - despite the Czech Republic's joining - the country would remain open to the rest of the world. Mr Klaus compared EU accession to making an investment, which he added, need not always be a success. Meanwhile, during his appearance at the economic forum Mr Klaus had the opportunity to speak with former U.S. president George H.W. Bush, a former U.S. ambassador to China in the 1970s. One of the top issues discussed was the current situation in Iraq.
The 68th Ice Hockey World Championship officially kicked-off on Saturday in the Czech capital Prague, as well as the Czech Republic's third largest city Ostrava. International Ice Hockey Federation President Rene Fasel officially welcomed fans on Saturday afternoon to Prague's new Sazka arena, in advance of the Czech national team's opening game versus Latvia. The official opening followed two games earlier in the day in which Slovakia easily defeated Ukraine 2-0, and France fell to Austria 6-0.
Delegates from the UNIOS group of unions representing the gas industry and communal services have released a statement saying the government should scrap the system of civil servants' so-called 13th and 14th month bonus salaries in favour of raising workers' basic monthly wages. UNIOS chairman Karel Sladkovsky made the announcement on Saturday shortly after union representatives completed a meeting in Prague. Earlier in the week more than 200, 000 civil servants went on strike in the Czech Republic in protest of the government's decision to pay them only 10 percent, instead of the usual 50 percent of the 13th month bonus. Mr Sladkovsky criticised the government's plan to implement a new 16 point wage scale without, in his words, "knowing what to do next". Some 750, 000 work in the public sector, with roughly 450, 000 receiving salaries from the state budget.
The new Health Minister, Jozef Kubinyi, has criticised the method through which state-run hospitals were transferred under the administration of individual regions last year. Regional governors have repeatedly criticised the government of Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla for handing over to them hospitals burdened by billions of crowns worth of debts. Minister Kubinyi has also appointed his new deputies, raising their number from four to six. He plans to put forward a reform of the health-care sector by the end of September. Mr Kubinyi's predecessor, Marie Souckova, was recalled last week for failing to produce a sound reform plan for the ailing health sector.
Czech Radio has reported that one of the diplomats to represent the Czech Republic in EU bodies collaborated with the Communist-era StB secret police. According to Czech Radio, Petr Mooz was listed as an agent in StB files. Mr Mooz was screened under the so-called "lustration" process and received a "clean" certificate from the Interior Ministry in 1992 - he maintains that he never collaborated with the communist political police.
The Czech-born American film director Milos Forman has received the 2004 Film Society Award for Lifetime Achievement in Directing at the International Film Festival in San Francisco. A leading representative of the 1960s' "New Wave" of Czech film, Milos Forman moved to the United States after the Soviet-led occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1968. He continued his filmmaking career in the U.S. and directed many films, including Oscar-winners "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" and "Amadeus".
On a visit to Prague on Thursday the Irish prime minister, Bertie Ahern, discussed preparations for a new EU constitution with his Czech counterpart, Vladimir Spidla. Mr Ahern also addressed the EU constitution in a speech to the Czech Senate; he said he would seek a spirit of compromise and flexibility from all EU states, so as to reach agreement by the end of Ireland's presidency of the Union at the end of June.
A bill reducing the top value added tax rate from 22 to 19 percent has
been passed by the Chamber of Deputies, overturning a veto by President
Vaclav Klaus. All Chamber business had been suspended since Tuesday to
allow the foreign minister, Cyril Svoboda, more time to recover after a
recent car crash. Mr Svoboda was flown to Prague by helicopter from his
hospital in Brno; his vote was crucial because the government has a
majority of only one in the 200-seat lower house.
Finance Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said the new VAT rate could take effect as of Friday, when it is published in the Czech Republic's Collection of Laws. Minister Sobotka had been pushing hard to have the change adopted ahead of European Union accession on May 1, saying failure to do so would have harmed Czech trade with other EU states.
A total of 19 customs officers from Breclav in south Moravia have been charged with taking bribes from lorry drivers from Balkan countries, a police spokesperson said on Thursday, adding that more arrests were expected. About half of the 800 or so trucks which cross the border at Breclav every day are from the Balkans.
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