There were mixed results for the four Czech teams in action in the first round of football's UEFA Cup on Thursday evening. Liberec beat Red Star Belgrade 2:0 at home, though Slavia Prague could not convert home advantage into success against Tottenham Hotspur, losing 1:0. Sparta Prague look well placed for the second leg, after beating Hearts in Edinburgh, while Mlada Boleslav face a tougher challenge after losing 1:0 away to Olympic Marseilles.
The EU Statistics Office, Eurostat, has revealed that the Czech Republic is losing some advantage it enjoyed in terms of luring foreign investors: namely affordable labour costs. According to Eurostat, labour costs in the country are currently increasing at one of the fastest rates in the European Union; wages and other labour costs in the Czech Republic rose by more than ten percent in the second quarter of 2006 and more rapid growth was observed only in the Baltic states. Wages in the Czech Republic, says Eurostat, have been growing equally in almost all sectors, benefiting employees in industry, as well as in construction and the service sector.
The presidents of the Visegrad Four - the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, and Poland - have met at the Lany Chateau in the Czech Republic to discuss the repercussions of a possible delay in the enlargement of the borderless Schengen area within the European Union. All agreed on Friday that their countries were ready to join the zone in 2007 according to original plans, and they indicated that anything less would amount to discrimination. Czech President Vaclav Klaus said the sentiment was shared by all four Visegrad heads of state, with Polish President Lech Kaczynski agreeing that he and his counterparts were united on the issue.
A 31-year-old Czech man has been given eleven years in prison by a court in Pilsen for planning to murder his wife in 2005. The man went as far as advertising on the Internet for a contract killer. He was offering a sum of 2,000 euros - the equivalent of 2,500 US dollars for the killing; the murder was meant to look like an accident. In court the accused denied any wrong-doing, saying the advert had only been intended as "provocation". In the case the accused was also charged and found guilty of sexually abusing his stepdaughter.
The opposition Social Democrats have issued a statement saying they
will ask Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek to explain the circumstances of
the purchase of his Prague flat and a past business deal in parliament.
On Friday the head of the party's deputies' group, Michal Hasek,
stressed that Mr Topolanek's financial affairs will be among the top
issues taken up by the Social Democrats in the chamber. Currently
police are investigating allegations that the VAE company - in which Mr
Topolanek had a stake - failed to repay part of a 70 million crown bank
The issue under investigation is whether the new prime minister - then senator - sold his stake in the company and used the money to buy his family flat, rather than using the funds to repay part of VAE's debt. Earlier this week Mr Topolanek stated that the sale of his shares in the company - worth 2.5 million crowns or the equivalent of 111 thousand US dollars - was not irregular, as the shares were not blocked at the time. By then a new company had acquired the VAE claim. Mr Topolanek has accused his political rivals of manipulating the issue to try and weaken his party's position ahead of upcoming municipal and Senate elections.
The new health minister, Tomas Julinek has begun replacing state
representatives on the boards and supervisory boards of the country's
health insurance companies, a move that has provoked criticism from his
predecessor David Rath. Mr Julinek has, for example, appointed his own
nominees as members of the board at the largest insurer the VZP, and on
three boards out of the country's eight employee insurers. The
replacement of state representatives on the remaining five boards is
expected soon. Mr Rath has called the replacement of officials a
"display of arrogance of power" on the part of the Civic Democratic
Appointed last week, the minority cabinet is not guaranteed to win a vote of confidence in the lower house: along with the other centre-right parties it can rely at most on 100 votes in the 200-member chamber. The former health minister has indicated the shake-up of personnel could destabilise health insurers in the long run, if the government falls and another is named in its stead. In Mr Rath's view, this will lead to yet another round of dismissals. Others have called the new minister's move "standard" procedure.
The Czech financial daily Hospodarske Noviny has reported that new
Interior Minister Ivan Langer has halted plans on establishing a new
anti-terrorism centre in the Czech Republic. The new minister told the
latest edition of the daily that the government was not satisfied with
the coordination of anti-terrorism activities at present, saying he had
asked the police president to halt plans on the special unit, at least
for the time being.
The proposed squad of up to 50 members - both from the financial police and intelligence services - was supposed to gain and gather all information concerning terrorism, and share data with partners. That role is currently met by the Czech counter-intelligence service, the BIS. Meanwhile, the former Interior Minister Frantisek Bublan, told the same daily that the scrapping of the anti-terrorism centre was "a mistake".
Czech rabbi Tomas Kucera was among the three rabbis ordained in Germany on Thursday in the first such ceremony in the country since the mass murder of Jews in the Holocaust six decades ago. The three, a German, a Czech and a South African, were ordained in the new synagogue in Dresden as 25 Jewish leaders from all over the world watched. The newly ordained rabbis said they planned to serve congregations in Munich in southern Germany, in Oldenburg in the northwest of the country and in Cape Town in South Africa.
The Czech foreign minister, Alexandr Vondra, on Wednesday also criticised the postponement of the enlargement of the Schengen area by at least a year. Speaking after talks with his German counterpart in Berlin, Mr Vondra told reporters the Czech Republic did not like the delay and was requesting an explanation. The European Union has said it cannot open its borders to the new EU 10 until 2008 - a year later than originally planned - because of technical reasons; Mr Vondra described that justification as weak and unsatisfactory.
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