Unemployment in the Czech Republic stood at 9.4 percent in March,
according to figures just released by the Labour Ministry. The new
figures represent a slight drop on February, when unemployment was at
9.6 percent. Some 540,000 Czechs are now out of work. The number of
applicants per job is now 10.1, the lowest number in three years.
Meanwhile, year-on-year inflation in March fell to 1.5 percent, the lowest rate since December 2003.
The Vatican announced on Thursday that the election of a new pope will begin on April 18 with a mass served by Czech cardinal Tomas Spidlik. Cardinal Spidlik has spent most of his life in Rome, and was close to Pope John Paul II. The only Czech among the 117 cardinals who will elect a new pope is Prague Archbishop Miloslav Vlk.
Flags have been flown at half-mast and a minute's silence held around the Czech Republic on an official day of mourning for Pope John Paul II, who was buried on Friday. The pontiff's funeral was attended by the Czech president, Vaclav Klaus, Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda and lower house chairman Lubomir Zaoralek. It is believed that a few thousand Czech Roman Catholics also travelled to the Vatican for the funeral.
The Health Ministry has become involved in a dispute with Ceska Posta (Czech Post), which recently started selling cigarettes at some post offices, TV Nova reported on Thursday. Czech Post is wholly owned by the state, which campaigns against smoking. However, the Ministry concedes that selling cigarettes at post offices does not contravene the law.
Prime Minister Stanislav Gross has held talks with Jan Kohout, the
Czech ambassador to the European Union. The latter said after Friday's
meeting that the two men had discussed the possibility of Mr Kohout, a
career diplomat, replacing Mr Gross as prime minister.
On Thursday the prime minister said he would step aside to allow a new government of his Social Democrats, the Christian Democrats and the Freedom Union to form under a different leader.
Mr Gross has been under pressure for some months over a scandal involving his family's finances, and his government is hanging by a thread, with several ministers having resigned and more threatening to follow.
Around 80,000 Polish Catholics heading for Italy to attend the funeral of Pope John Paul II have crossed the Czech Republic's border and the traffic is now calming down. Thousands of cars and hundreds of buses crossed the Polish-Moravian borders on Thursday but there were no queues, a police spokeswoman said. According to estimates only around 3000-4000 Czech Catholics have travelled to the Vatican while around a million people from neighbouring Poland are estimated to have left for Rome.
Prime Minister Stanislav Gross has for the first time admitted he might step down to allow the formation of a new government with a different leader. Mr Gross's government currently hangs by a thread, ravaged by the loss of its majority and the resignation of five ministers and more threatening to follow after a row in the ruling coalition over the prime minister's private finances boiled over. Mr Gross offered his resignation after a meeting of his leftist Social Democrats but said he would resign only if such an agreement on a new administration could be reached with the rightist Freedom Union and centrist Christian Democrats.
President Vaclav Klaus has warned against attempts at re-writing history and changes in the perception of WWII. Addressing a crowd of former Nazi camp inmates at a ceremony marking the 60th anniversary of the uprising in the Nazi concentration camp at Buchenwald, President Klaus said that new reconciliation gestures that are being required from the Czechs place the culprits and the victims of the war on the same level or switch one for another. President Klaus urged people the be cautious of such attitudes, adding that the lessons we learn from the past will determine the future we will be living in. Painter Josef Capek and journalist Ferdinand Peroutka were among the thousands of Czechs jailed at Buchenwald during WWII.
The acquisition of Cesky Telecom by the Spanish telecoms giant Telefonica and its further ambitions in Europe have drawn mixed reviews from market analysts, the AFP agency wrote. The ratings agency Standard and Poor's said the price of 3.5 billion dollars agreed upon for Cesky Telecom was high in light of the latter's limited growth prospects and the absence of major cost advantages. On the other hand, an analyst at the Belgian-Dutch bank and insurance group Fortis described the purchase of Cesky Telecom as a positive step in a country "that is going to be one of the principal beneficiaries" of EU cohesion funding following its admission last May to the European Union. Telefonica head Cesar Alierta last November expressed a desire "to create the world's largest and best integrated company" in the telecommunications sector.
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