The government's draft budget for 2005 has been passed in the first reading by the Chamber of Deputies. The budget envisages a deficit of 83.6 billion crowns. Ninety-nine of the 194 deputies present for Friday's vote supported the draft budget. Further debate on the proposed budget will take place later this year, after it has been discussed in detail by various Chamber committees.
The German president, Horst Kohler - in Prague for a one-day visit on Friday - said he would welcome a gesture from the Czech Republic towards Germans expelled from Czechoslovakia after World War II. Mr Kohler added, however, that it was not his place to interfere or put forward demands. Meanwhile, his Czech counterpart Vaclav Klaus said it was a purely Czech matter. Last month the Czech foreign minister, Cyril Svoboda, said he was in favour of a "humanitarian gesture" towards the Sudeten Germans.
Czech Airlines is to acquire 12 European-made Airbus planes between 2006 and 2008. The head of CSA, Jaroslav Tvrdik, said on Friday that the airline had managed to get a better deal than expected from Airbus, who defeated United States company Boeing in the tender. Czech Airlines will pay 10 to 12.5 billion crowns for the planes in a leasing deal which will be completed in 2020.
If the Czech Republic fails to introduce mandatory retirement savings plans as part of the reform of the pension system, it will soon find itself bankrupt, according to leading Czech economists. During a presentation of the basic parameters of pension reform on Thursday, economic analyst David Marek estimated that the Czech Republic will accumulate a debt of 280 percent of its GDP in the next fifty years, and 1000 percent by 2075, if mandatory savings plans are not enforced. The planned reform of the pension system is scheduled for 2006. The country's debt currently totals 40 percent of the GDP.
The attempt of the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs to fight corruption with the help of anonymous reports, has failed to bear fruit. Since a special telephone line that citizens can call to file corruption cases was set up in September, only three people have dialled the number; all three, however, had no corruption cases to report but many complaints. One man for example, who also sent the ministry an e-mail, called to complain about the bad labour market in the Bruntal region.
Representatives of various Czech non-governmental organisations, who met in Prague on Thursday to discuss living conditions in the Czech Republic, stressed that the fight against poverty cannot be won without a simultaneous fight against the bad attitude of most of society towards poorer citizens. According to NGOs like Hope and the Olga Havlova Foundation, the Czech Republic is also in need of a law that would help poorer citizens integrate into society. They point out that some places of residence still lack effective waste management and a proper canal system and any attempts to lead a better life are therefore hindered by bad living conditions. Czech Statistical Office figures show that 1.2 percent of Czech households have an income that is well below the living wage.
The Czech Republic beat Armenia 3:0 away on Wednesday night in a qualifying game for the 2006 football World Cup. Two of the Czechs' goals came from Jan Koller, who is now just two short of the national record of 34 goals set by Antonin Puc before World War II. The Czech Republic's next World Cup qualifier is against Macedonia next month.
Police President Jiri Kolar has dismissed the statement by regional state attorney Zlatuse Andelova who said on Tuesday that the arrest of two men suspected of trying to bribe MP Zdenek Koristka was unlawful. Two close associates of opposition Civic Democrat leader Mirek Topolanek were dramatically arrested two weeks ago on charges of a corruption attempt but were later released. The regional state attorney Zlatuse Andelova also cast doubt on the lie-detector test that MP Koristka passed, saying that some of the results were not clear. Following Ms Andelova's statement, the Civic Democratic Party called on Police President Jiri Kolar and Interior Minister Frantisek Bublan to resign.
Parliament on Wednesday approved a bill which will substantially increase the salaries of police officers, customs officers and fire fighters. As of January 2005 people in these professions will receive an average 32,000 crowns (around 1,000 euros) per month. The bill was strongly opposed by the Christian Democrats and the opposition Civic Democrats who argued that it would raise mandatory expenditures to an unacceptable level. The head of Parliament's budget committee, Miroslav Kalousek, failed in his attempt to get the pay increase postponed by two years.
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