The Czech Foreign Ministry and US embassy officials are discussing concrete steps which would lead to either easing or abolishing visa requirements for Czech citizens in the future. Czech officials see the term 2007 as a possible date for the inclusion of the Czech Republic in the US visa-free programme, but the US embassy in Prague has refused to confirm the possibility. Of the new EU members only Slovenian nationals do not require visas to travel to the United States.
On an official visit to Slovakia, the Czech Prime Minister likewise discussed EU matters with his Slovak counterpart Mikulas Dzurinda. Both heads of government said they might support a possible extension of the two year deadline for the ratification process. The Czech Prime Minister said he was in favour of pushing ahead with ratification, but that he could not rule out certain modifications in Czech policy following Britain's decision to shelve its referendum. The Slovak Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda said his country would do whatever appeared "meaningful", stressing that in the expanded European Union it was necessary to show flexibility and listen to the arguments of others.
One of the six new Gripen fighter jets which the Czech Republic has leased from Sweden is not operable due to a malfunctioning display panel. Swedish technicians are reportedly looking into the problem. The Czech military received the fighters only a few weeks ago. Another eight are to be supplied in the second half of the year. The planes have replaced an aging fleet of Soviet MiG-21s. They are being leased for 10 years for almost 20 billion crowns (850 million dollars).
The Czech Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek has told BBC TV that Britain's decision to postpone the ratification process of the EU Constitution would complicate the situation for the Czech government. Speaking on "News night" Mr. Paroubek said that coupled with the French and Dutch rejections, Britain's decision to suspend a referendum on the EU Constitution, made it impossible to continue with ratification plans as if nothing had happened. The Czech Prime Minister, who is strongly pro-federal, said it was now necessary to begin a debate on the Constitution's future. The Czech government had earlier expressed its resolve to forge ahead with an information campaign on the EU Constitution and was severely criticized by the opposition Civic Democrats who said the EU Constitution was dead and there was no point in wasting money on a campaign.
Eight senators have expressed support for an association of Czech house owners who are planning to sue the Czech Republic for hundreds of millions of crowns in "moral damages" at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. The association is unhappy with the country's policy of regulated rent. Eight senators for the opposition Civic Democratic Party have publicly backed the association's decision to sue the Czech Republic calling on the government to address the problem. House owners who have filed the complaint, say that the collected rent does not even cover maintenance costs. Rent control covers almost 20 percent of occupied apartments nationwide.
A new study by Price Waterhouse Coopers has shown that Czech car prices
are apparently the lowest in Europe, standing 8 percent below the
European average owing to lower interest in new cars. Following last
year's accession to the European Union, experts predicted prices would
grow as differences between prices in the EU narrowed. But, says
Antonin Sipek, director of the Association of Automotive Industries,
dealers began a price war as interest in new cars decreased rapidly.
Over the past 12 months, the Czech Republic has been the only country
in which prices have fallen, posting a 1.2 percent drop.
On the whole Czech car sales have been falling by an annual 9 percent over the past two years. The drop in sales has affected all vehicle categories.
Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek of the Social Democrats and the leader of the country's largest opposition party, the right-of-centre Civic Democrats, have failed to find consensus on the future of the European constitution and planned reforms to the Czech Republic's pension system. After a two-hour top-secret meeting on Monday between the prime minister and Mirek Topolanek, the prime minister told reporters that both sides would retain their previous stances. Mr Paroubek has made clear he will press for the EU constitution ratification process to continue. At the weekend he said that even opponents of the treaty - like the Civic Democrats - would be invited to address the first phase of a planned information campaign.
It has been revealed that Prague customs officials arrested a Mexican national smuggling more than three kilograms of cocaine at Prague's international airport at the weekend. The smuggler apparently arrived from Amsterdam. An X-ray check of his luggage revealed a number of record sleeves filled with compressed cocaine. Officials say the cocaine would have sold for four million crowns on the black market, the equivalent of roughly 160,000 dollars US. If found guilty the suspect could face up to five years in prison.
Almost 90 non-government organisations in the Czech Republic have asked Czech President Vaclav Klaus to apologise for statements made last month categorising non-government organisations - or NGOs - as "dangerous" to democracy. The NGOs have sent the president a letter outlining their appeal. But, the president's spokesman said on Monday the document had not yet been received. Jan Bouchal, from the association which initiated the appeal, has said that the non-profit organisations and their members have stated clearly that they disapprove of President Klaus's opinion, defending citizens' rights to interfere in public developments and decision-making. NGO members first protested the president's remarks in May, when at the Council of Europe summit in Warsaw, he described what he called "post-democracy" as involving pressure from non-governmental organisations to influence individuals' lives. In his view - without a proper mandate.
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