Although New Year's celebrations in the Czech Republic were calmer this year, according to officials they claimed four lives and another four people were seriously injured. Many people including children sustained burns from fireworks and many were injured in fights following excessive alcohol consumption.
The first Czech casualty of the Indian Ocean disaster has been confirmed. The victim was a young woman who had been holidaying in Thailand. The Foreign Ministry believes six other Czechs may also have died in Thailand and Sri Lanka in Sunday's catastrophe. A total of 45 Czechs remain unaccounted for, although officials expect most of them will be found once communications improve in disaster hit areas. Three Czechs are in hospital in Thailand with serious injuries, while two others are receiving treatment in Sri Lanka. Most of the Czechs still unaccounted for were holidaying in those countries. The government will hold an extraordinary meeting on the situation in South Asia on Tuesday, two days ahead of a European Council meeting in Brussels.
Czechs have raised over 14 million crowns (470,000 euros) in public collections called by aid organisations to help the disaster-stricken countries in South Asia. The state will donate another 5 million crowns on top of the 10 million already pledged for immediate humanitarian aid. A Czech Airforce plane landed in Indonesia on Friday with over nine tonnes of humanitarian aid. The plane was carrying water, medicines and water purifying tablets, as well as body bags. It is due to bring Czech tourists back from various countries in the region on Sunday.
In his New Year's address to the nation President Vaclav Klaus said that the Czech Republic's accession to the European Union on May 1st, 2004 did not prove to be a watershed in people's lives. The President said that although the ongoing changes have been continuous, people should be aware of them. In his speech President Klaus criticised the fact that despite promises, the reforms of the health care and pension systems have not been launched. Mr Klaus also mentioned the low voter turnout in the European Parliament, Senate and regional elections that took place in the Czech Republic in the past year. The President said that by not turning up people expressed what they thought of those institutions. He concluded his New Year's address by saying that 2005 should not be a nameless year, lacking in substance. He called on the Czech people to follow traditionalist, conservative and un-ideological goals and demand courage, responsibility and modesty from their elected representatives.
The Prime Minister Stanislav Gross has said that the Czech Republic should coordinate its aid to South Asia with the European Union. According to Mr Gross the current humanitarian aid stage will be followed by a renewal of the devastated areas in which the Czech Republic will take an active part. The Prime Minister also said that the Czech Republic will join the rest of the European Union in a three-minute silence on January 5, as a tribute to the tens of thousands of victims of the disastrous quake and tsunami waves.
According to the latest reports from Southeast Asia, 152 Czech citizens are still unaccounted for four days after the Indian Ocean tidal wave disaster. Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda said it was likely some of the missing Czechs were dead, given the extent of the catastrophe and the time which has elapsed since it occurred. Officials said they had serious concerns about six or seven missing Czech citizens in particular. Most of the Czechs still unaccounted for were holidaying in Thailand and Sri Lanka.
The Czech tennis number one, Jiri Novak, will miss the first Grand Slam tournament of next year, the Australian Open. Novak, ranked 24th in the world, says he is taking the month of January off to spend more time with his family. The 29-year-old told reporters Thursday he would enter only a limited number of tournaments in 2005, although he denied he was planning to retire soon.
Czech Television has begun showing an advertisement by the environmental organisation Greenpeace free of charge. The ad encourages viewers to use environmentally friendly products and advises them not to buy genetically modified foods. A spokesperson for the station said the advertisement "had a place" on public service television.
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