The Finance Ministry said on Monday that the Czech state budget for September has shown a surplus of a record 25.8 billion crowns (over 1 billion dollars- the best result through the month of September since 1993. It marks a year-on-year improvement of some 66 billion crowns. Finance Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said the result can be attributed to more efficient tax collection and other measures to reduce the 'grey' economy.
In business news, the national carrier Czech Airlines (CSA) sustained a loss of 464 million crowns in the first half of this year, not the planned profit of 177 million crowns, Czech public television reported. The results were based on documents discussed by the carrier's supervisory board, as Czech Airlines has not published the results. CEO Jaroslav Tvrdik blamed jumps in the price of fuel for the losses.
The president of Iraq, Jalal Talabani, began his official tour of Europe on Monday, with the Czech Republic as his first port of call. He met with Czech Vaclav Klaus at Prague Castle and was to attend a state dinner in his honour Monday evening, following a series of ministerial-level meetings. The Czech Republic has a contingent of some 100 military police and instructors in Iraq, as well as a mobile field hospital and specialised anti-chemical warfare troops. The Iraqi President was to discuss the possibility of Czech instructors providing training to the Iraqi army, and the Czech role in ongoing reconstruction efforts.
Former Czech president Vaclav Havel has been included on a list of 100 names from which readers of the British magazine 'Prospect' and the US magazine 'Foreign Policy' have been asked to choose the world's top five intellectuals. The readers' opinion poll closes October 10 and results will be declared in November. The American linguist and dissident Naom Chomsky is an early favourite to head the list of the top five, with more than 14,000 votes already cast.
Meanwhile, the Norwegian telecommunications company Telenor has said it is ready to exit the Czech and Slovak telecoms markets and has already started talks to with interested parties for its Nextra and Telenor units in the two countries. Nextra offers Internet access and communications services, and Telenor provides DSL services. All companies are to be sold at once. Reported to be among interested parties is the British giant Vodafone, which bought the Czech mobile operator Oskar this spring.
The Social Democrats and their Slovak counterparts signed a cooperation agreement on Sunday in which they pledge to help each other ahead of general elections next year in their respective countries. The Slovak opposition party Smer, headed by Robert Fico, wants to highlight the successes of the Czech centre-left party as a contrast to what it deems the shortcoming of Slovak reforms put in place by the centre-right coalition of Slovak Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda. Czech Prime Minister and Social Democrat leader Jiri Paroubek said Czech and Slovak politicians may appear at joint rallies in the future.
The Senate will convene a public hearing about proposed changes to the labour law on Tuesday. A major point of contention relates to severance pay. Workers unions want to keep in place a provision requiring an employer to give three months notice and pay two months' severance pay. Employers' associations say the requirement is too costly and leads to an inflexible workforce.
Several dozen far-right extremists gathered in a Kutna Hora restaurant on Saturday night for a birthday celebration. Eighty-eight police were dispatched to the scene after a private citizen in the central Bohemian town called in a complaint. One skinhead wearing a tee-shirt promoting a banned neo-Nazi music group was taken into custody. Police have been criticised in recent years for allowing neo-Nazi concerts to take place undisturbed. Recently, two police officials in southern Bohemia were demoted for failing to intervene at a similar gathering of neo-Nazis.
A new study by the Karolinska Institute of Sweden has found that cancer patients in the Czech Republic are among the least likely in Europe to be treated with the latest medicines. The report, which is due to be presented to the European Parliament this week, also singled out Hungary, Norway, Poland and the United Kingdom in this regard. The Stockholm-based institute said shortages in new cancer drugs are generally caused by tight financial controls in countries like the Czech Republic and by delays in approving medicines.
Former prime minister Stanislav Gross, who resigned as chairman of the centre-left Social Democratic party on Friday, will begin work as a trainee lawyer in a private firm starting this Monday. At age 35, Gross was the youngest prime minister in Europe until he stepped down this April. He had been under heavy pressure to resign following questions about his personal finances, including how he paid for his luxury Prague apartment. In an interview for the Pravo daily published on Saturday, Gross said that in private practice, he would avoid legal cases relating to serious financial or organised crime. He said that as a former interior minister, he considered it "unethical" to handle such cases.
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