Four Iraqi children suffering from serious heart problems arrived in Prague on Thursday to undergo surgery. The three boys aged between four and five and a one-year-old girl were each accompanied by their father. The patients were selected for treatment by Czech doctors who worked in the Czech military field hospital in Basra, southern Iraq, last year. Given their serious heart defects, the four children would not have survived in Iraq without appropriate help. The children are the last from Basra to be treated at the Czech government's expense in Prague and their treatment will cost about 5 million crowns (160,000 euros). A total of 22 Iraqi children have already been brought to the country and operated on at Motol hospital. The plane in which the children arrived on Thursday also brought back to Prague 37 Czech military police officers who had ended their mission in Iraq.
The Lower House of Parliament has sent into its second reading an income tax bill that introduces joint taxation for married couples and tax relief for families with children. If the bill makes it through both houses of Parliament, families with children can expect an annual discount of six thousand crowns per child. The Finance Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said the bill envisaged the biggest tax cuts for families with children in Czech history.
A court in the West Bohemian city of Pilsen has ruled against re-opening the case of Jiri Kajinek, the country's most notorious prisoner, who is serving a life sentence for double murder. The judge said that Mr Kajinek's lawyer had not presented any new evidence that would justify a new trial. Mr Kajinek was served a life sentence in 1998 for the murder of two men, but he has always pleaded innocent of the crimes and insists that he was framed by the police. He can still lodge a complaint against the decision with the High Court in Prague.
The Czech power producer CEZ said it still hoped to succeed in purchasing a 66-percent state-held share in the Slovak power utility Slovenske elektrarne. The Slovak Economy Minister Pavol Rusko should submit his proposal to the cabinet on Friday or early next week. The cabinet will then decide on the winner of the tender. Two weeks ago a steering committee recommended Italy's Enel with a bid worth 840 million euros as the winner ahead of CEZ with 690 million euros and Russia's Inter RAO with 547 million euros. Slovenske elektrarne controls over 85 percent of Slovak power production. It runs three nuclear and two thermal power stations and 34 hydroelectric power sources.
The German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has rejected compensation calls from Germans driven out of Czechoslovakia and Poland at the end of World War II. In an interview for the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung the Chancellor said that there were no legal grounds for a settlement - either from abroad or from Germany. "There will be no domestic settlement" Mr. Schroeder told the paper "because that would mean that we would have to abandon our legal position that there should be no claims for reparations from either side". The Czech CTK news agency says this is a radical change in Germany's position on the issue. Previous governments always maintained that the expellees' compensation claims were "open to debate".
Poland and the Czech Republic want the European Union to lobby the United States on their behalf to get the visa-regime for their citizens travelling to the United States lifted. We will probably achieve a no-visa system more easily and with greater efficiency within the framework of the EU, Polish Prime Minister Marek Belka told reporters on Wednesday. Both the Czech Republic and Poland, which have been EU members since May 1st, have pressed in vain for visa requirements to be lifted. Czech and Polish visitors to the United States need a visa, whereas US citizens visiting the Czech Republic or Poland do not.
Twenty five Czech cities took part in car-free day on Wednesday, four of them even banning traffic in the city centre. Several cities made public transport free for that day. Although traditionally an attempt was made to observe car day in the Czech capital Prague only a few people responded to the appeal to leave their cars at home for the day. In an attempt to set a good example three Cabinet ministers rode their bikes to work on Wednesday.
On an official visit to Poland, the Czech Prime Minister Stanislav Gross called for closer cooperation within the Visegrad Group. The Visegrad group is a loose alliance of central and east European states established after the fall of communism, which later became instrumental in helping its members to meet the EU criteria for membership. During a meeting with his Polish counterpart Marek Belka in Warsaw, Mr. Gross argued that if the new EU members coordinated their policy more effectively they could achieve more. The two prime ministers also discussed the possibility of further EU enlargement to include Turkey. Mr. Gross said he was convinced that Turkey had a future in Europe if it could meet EU criteria.
A woman who allegedly collected money for Chechen armed groups in several states, including the Czech Republic, has been arrested in Chechnya, according to the Russian Intelligence Service. Natallia Khalkayeva, 31, allegedly operated in the United Arab Emirates, Austria, Germany, the Czech Republic and Poland, collecting money and helping to select suicide bombers. She was arrested in Chechnya carrying a belt of explosives and a satellite telephone.
The Czech Cabinet has approved a draft state budget proposal for 2005 with a projected deficit of 83.6 billion crowns /about 3 billion US dollars/. Thanks to a last minute reduction of the budget deficit by 10 billion crowns the proposal falls just short of the criteria set by the European Commission's convergence programme. The proposal envisages a rise in salaries for some state employees, although the government failed to meet the demands of trade union leaders who requested a more even distribution of the available funds. The budget proposal was approved unanimously. The two opposition parties in Parliament are not prepared to support it.