The Czech Parliament's defence and foreign affairs committees have asked legislators to approve the government's proposal to extend the mission of Czech military police stationed in Iraq. The group of about one hundred military police is based in southern Iraq and is helping to train local police there. The mission was to return home at the end of February, but the government recommended last week that it stay on till the end of the year. The lower house of parliament is expected to discuss the extension, which will cost the Defence Ministry around 175 million crowns (just over 7 million US dollars), at Friday's session.
The European Commission has approved the Czech Republic's plans to financially compensate those who will be hit the hardest by the restructuring of the national railway operator Ceske Drahy. The Czech government expects to spend a total of 1.86 billion Czech crowns (77.5 million US dollars) to compensate Ceske Drahy employees who will have to be laid off.
The dominant fixed-line operator Cesky Telecom wants to outsource its network maintenance operations to the German electronics giant Siemens, as part of stringent cost-cutting plans. In an interview for the German business daily Handelsblatt, the Cesky Telecom chairman Gabriel Berdar said the company would do a trial run for a couple of months. If it works out, a deal could be sealed in the second or third quarter of this year. The move would cut around 3,300 jobs at Cesky Telecom, in which the Czech government wants to sell a 51-percent stake, the newspaper said.
Lorry drivers may have to pay more for using Czech highways and main roads as of June 2005. In response to the heightened number of lorries transiting the Czech Republic, the Transport Ministry has proposed introducing a new toll which would take into consideration the weight of the vehicle and the number of kilometres covered. This would be a stopgap measure until the introduction of electronic tolls planned for 2006 or early 2007.
The Czech President Vaclav Klaus and the visiting Maltese President Fenech-Adami disagreed over EU matters during talks in Prague on Tuesday. While the Maltese head of state said that further EU integration was a positive thing and would be further improved by the adoption of the European Constitution, President Klaus warned of "dangers ahead" and criticized Brussels for trying to centrally direct people's lives. Similarly as the right wing Civic Democratic Party, which he established, President Klaus believes that the European Constitution would restrict the country's sovereignty.
The opposition Civic Democrats will support parents in a complaint to the Constitutional Court against a new system of applying for secondary school entrance exams. According to an amendment to the education law primary school graduates may send their application to only one secondary school of their choice, rather than applying to several as they did in the past. The Civic Democratic Party has slammed this new restriction, saying that it is in violation of the Charter of Human Rights.
The number of Czechs missing in the wake of the tsunami disaster in south-east Asia has dropped to nine. In seven cases there are fears that the missing Czechs did not survive the disaster. Thailand has received documents and DNA samples to aid the identification process, but the Czech Foreign Ministry has warned friends and relatives that it could be a long process. The Czech Republic has one confirmed casualty to date.
A seventeen-member Czech medical team has left for Sri Lanka to set up a mobile children's hospital in the city of Galle in the south of the island. The team will join a group of Czech rescuers who have been working in the tsunami-hit island since last week. The hospital, called Hope from Bohemia, is expected to treat its first patients on Friday. By the end of January the personnel will be joined by gynaecologists and obstetricians. The mobile hospital is expected to work in Sri Lanka for six months.
The former Health Minister Marie Souckova has been accused of breach of trust. Ms Souckova allegedly broke the law when she brokered a controversial contract during her tenure at the ministry, which she left in April 2004. Ms Souckova appointed the lawyer Zdenek Novacek to represent the state in a compensation case launched by the blood plasma company Diag Human. Mr Novacek was to be paid 10 million crowns for taking the case and he was to charge a further 170 million crowns if he won. Experts have found his services highly overpriced. If found guilty, ex-minister Souckova faces two to eight years in prison. Last week, Ms Souckova, a former vice-chairperson of the Social Democrats, left the party reportedly over public statements of fellow party members relating to the Diag Human case.
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