A former liquidator of property once owned by the communist-controlled Socialist Youth Union is facing criminal charges for embezzlement. Pavel Zak, along with a former lawyer for the youth organisation, and the director of a related company, is thought to have cheated the state out of some 37 million crowns. They are charged with colluding to sell the properties below market price for personal gain. Parliament had forced Zak to resign from his post last December.
The Czech government has offered to help with the disaster relief effort underway in the US city of New Orleans. Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek made the offer to help victims of Hurricane Katrina on Monday, following talks with the US ambassador to Prague, William Cabaniss. He said the Czech government would make available a field hospital, military and civil aircraft and water pumps, as well as teams of anti-chemical specialists and health workers. The government has set aside one million dollars for the first phase of disaster aid, if the US accepts. A response was expected by Friday.
The Czech foreign minister, Cyril Svoboda, has appealed to his British counterpart, Jack Straw, to preserve the Czech service of the BBC, which is funded by Britain's Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The Czech BBC broadcasts five hours a day, but has a small audience: one survey last year suggested it had a mere 0.1 percent of the market. Mr Svoboda, speaking at a meeting of European Union foreign ministers in Wales, described the Czech BBC as world class.
The Czech currency has further gains against the common European currency, reaching 29.03 crowns to the euro on Monday morning following fresh data from the United States. The currency is nearing its record high of 28.92 against the euro, which was set in July 2002. Meanwhile, as expected, Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek confirmed on Monday that the government is looking to delay the adoption of the euro by one year, to 2010.
A large number of previously unknown files of the communist-era secret police the StB have been found in archives at the Interior Ministry, almost 16 years after the Velvet Revolution. The ministry confirmed the discovery of 70 metres of files to Czech Television, but provided no explanation as to why they had appeared now. Czech TV reported that most of the documents related to former dissidents and foreign diplomats. A law under which the state is obliged to allow the public access to StB files has been in place for several years.
In related news, the opposition Civic Democrats have said the party will seek a fast-track cut in the excise tax on petrol. Prices have risen sharply at Czech filling stations due to the knock on affect of Hurricane Katrina and a rise in the price of oil worldwide. The excise tax now stands at just under 12 crowns per litre for petrol and 10 crowns per litre for diesel fuel, less than one third of the total price. Finance Minister Bohuslav Sobotka has said there are no plans to cut the taxes, but that the ministry was looking into ways to help offset costs for transporters and others seriously affected by the rising cost of fuel.
Hundreds flocked to the north-eastern town of Holesov to see the re-enactment of the Battle of the Three Emperors - Napoleon's famous victory over the Austrian and Russian armies on December 2nd, 1805. Some 40,000 people lost their lives during the battle, which was fought in the nearby town of Slavkov. Before the re-enactment, a memorial ceremony was held at a burial mound, which was unveiled one hundred years ago to commemorate the death of 1,000 soldiers who died in a military field hospital after the battle.
The opposition centre-right Civic Democrats will most likely ask parliament to set up a special commission that would investigate the privatisation of Unipetrol. Such a commission has already been set up in the lower house of the Polish Parliament on suspicion that Poland's PKN Orlen acquired the controlling stake in the Czech Unipetrol oil and gas company, only after Czech government officials received bribes.
The country's only nationwide Sunday paper, Nedelni Blesk, has reported that police had to break up a fight between a group of Roma men and local town officials. The fight broke out during a football game that was held in the Moravian town of Olomouc as part of a project called We Can Get Along, aimed at bringing minority groups closer to the rest of society.
The Czech national football team is still recovering from a disappointing 2-0 defeat by Romania. The World Cup Qualifying UEFA match, which was held in Bucharest on Saturday, was a major blow to the Czech Republic's chances of automatic qualification from Group One. After the game, coach Karel Bruckner said the team's chances of automatic qualification are seriously compromised now. The Czechs, who have 21 points from nine matches, last reached the World Cup in 1980. They will be facing Armenia on Wednesday without goalkeeper Petr Cech, who has an injured shoulder.
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