Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda has begun a four country tour of sub-Saharan Africa. From Wednesday until next week Saturday, he will be visiting Angola, Namibia, Tanzania, and Nigeria. The main topics of discuss at meetings with politicians and businessmen will be development aid, possible economic cooperation, but also questions of security.
The Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ plans to open up a branch in Prague in April, the internet server Euro OnLine reports. The Czech branch will mainly offer services to Japanese investors, who are currently attended to by an office in Vienna. The Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi recently merged with the UFJ Bank to become the largest bank in the world, in terms of financial transactions and activities.
The Czech Senate has approved a resolution that condemns crimes of totalitarian communist regimes. The resolution was drafted and recommended by the Political Affairs Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe last month. It calls for "sympathy, understanding and recognition to the victims of crimes" by the international community in order to "pave the way to further reconciliation".
The Czech opposition right-of-centre Civic Democrats have decided to draw inspiration from the Polish conservative Law and Justice Party, ahead of the general election in mid-June. Poland's centre right parties won an overwhelming victory in the parliamentary elections last September. The Civic Democrats are holding a meeting this Saturday to determine the ways in which they can learn from their Polish colleagues.
The lower house of Parliament has approved a conflict of interest bill, put forward by the government. The bill tightens control over property belonging to politicians and other officials in the public sector such as the police force and the judiciary. Any income or gifts in the sum of 100,000 crowns or more, for example, will have to be declared. Any violation of the law could be fined between 30,000 and 500,000 Czech crowns (1,200 - 20,400 US dollars). If approved by the Senate and signed by the President, it will come into effect on January 1, 2007.
The Czech Press Photo exhibition, which is currently on show at Prague's Old Town Hall, will be prolonged for another month. 40,000 visitors have admired the photographs since the exhibition opened in mid-November, capturing tragic or unforgettable moments like the devastating tsunami in Southeast Asia, the opening of mass graves ten years after the Srebrenica massacre, Ukraine's Orange Revolution, and the disastrous hurricane season in the United States. Doors will be open to the public every day from 9am to 6pm until February 28.
A special decontamination unit has launched a clean-up operation at the dioxin contaminated Spolana factory on the river Elbe, some 20 kilometres north of Prague. Altogether around 35,000 tons of dangerous waste will be dug up and treated at an on-site heat plant. The remaining waste will be incinerated. Dioxin dust is one of the site's most toxic pollutants, able to cause cancer and genetic and immunity system disorders. A team of 160 people are working on the site, which is considered so dangerous that only people in full protective clothing from head to foot are allowed in the security zone.
The Czech Republic on Tuesday opposed Austria's compromise proposal on new VAT rates for the 25 countries of the EU. Prague together with Warsaw remain critical of the deal because they are eager to extend exemptions on VAT rules that were given to them when they joined the EU in 2004. Hungary and the Baltic states have said they are ready to accept the compromise solution. Like all issues regarding tax harmonization in the EU, the list of exemptions from normal minimum VAT rates must be unanimously approved by all member states.
Pharmacists have called a demonstration outside the health ministry on Thursday to protest a newly introduced measure which they say will threaten their livelihood. The lowering of their profit margin by three percent as of January 1st of this year has cut pharmacies profits by up to 15 percent. The pharmacists' association claims that a quarter of all pharmacies in the Czech Republic, in particular those in small towns and villages, are threatened with bankruptcy as a result. The new measure is part of a package of cost-cutting measures introduced by health minister David Rath.
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