In related news, the Labour and Social Affairs Ministry has announced that as of January 2006 it will increase the annual transportation subsidy given to disabled people in light of rising fuel costs. The Finance Ministry is also considering giving a subsidy to trucker and other professionals most affected by higher fuel costs. The price of petrol at Czech filling stations has risen by several crowns since Hurricane Katrina hit the US city of New Orleans. Petrol is now selling for about 32 crowns per litre, or roughly 5.25 US dollars per gallon.
The governing coalition has postponed a meeting of party leaders on amendments to the labour code. A spokeswoman for the Labour Ministry has said the proposals under consideration would bring the biggest change to the labour law system since 1990. The Cabinet meeting, which was to take place on Wednesday, has been pushed by back two weeks so that an inter-party working committee can address some of the sticking points. These include proposals on workers rights that some employers' associations say give unions too much power and would make it far too difficult to sack redundant or unproductive employees. The Finance Ministry has also objected to a proposal that would have the Social Security administration responsible for on-the-job accident insurance, which is now handled by commercial insurers.
The Czech Republic said on Tuesday it was ready to release some 9,800 barrels of crude oil every day to help eliminate possible market shortages caused by Hurricane Katrina, the Associated Press reported. The state-run Administration of the State Material Reserves said it had not yet received any such request. The agency said in a statement that it was ready to pump extra crude oil to the local market for 30 days.
The Deputy Prime Minister for the Economy, Martin Jahn, although unaffiliated with the party, has been nominated by the Prague chapter of the Social Democrats to serve as their election leader for the mid-2006 Parliamentary contest. The Social Democrats regional committee has yet to approve Jahn's candidature. But he seems certain to head the Prague ticket, as his candidacy was put forth by Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek, and he enjoys the support of party chairman Stanislav Gross. Paroubek is expected to lead the national campaign, and Gross the contest in central Bohemia.
Interior Minister Frantisek Bublan is due to submit a comprehensive report to the government on Wednesday as to how the police force acted this July to shut down a techno music festival known as CzechTek. Scores of police officers and festival-goers were injured when police used tear gas and water cannons to break up the techno rave. Claims of police brutality at CzechTek led to massive protests, mainly by young people, throughout the country. According to media reports citing a leaked copy of the document, the Interior Minister will report on Wednesday that - apart from a few isolated incidents - the police acted within the bounds of the law. Mr Bublan will recommend, however, that special crowd-control ("anti-conflict") police teams be created and that clearer rules of engagement be put in place.
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.
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.
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