US President George W. Bush speaking with President Vaclav Klaus at the
NATO Summit underway in Riga, has reportedly reiterated conviction that
visa requirements for Czechs travelling to the US will eventually be
waived. Speaking to reporters after a brief meeting with his US
counterpart, Czech President Vaclav Klaus said President Bush anticipated
intense debate in Congress, which will have the final word.
While Czech Foreign Minister Alexandr Vondra has put two years as an estimate for changes in visa policy, some US officials are being more cautious. The US Ambassador to Prague Richard Graber on Wednesday reacted by suggesting that while two years was perhaps a good estimate, the timeframe couldn't be guaranteed.
Wednesday's lower house session had to be interrupted after a row broke out between MPs of the two strongest parties. The deputies were in their first reading of laws and contracts when the Social Democrats and Civic Democrats clashed over a proposal to fully dissolve the Ministry of Information Technology in 2007. The war of words was sparked off by a remark made by former health minister and Social Democrat MP David Rath. He accused Civic Democrat Interior Minister Ivan Langer of being particularly eager to take over one of the IT ministry's projects because he would benefit from it personally.
Tests have confirmed the Czech Republic's 25th case of BSE, or mad cow disease. The State Veterinary Authority reported on Wednesday that the infected cow was from a farm near Semily in northeast Bohemia. Some two hundred cows will have to be slaughtered as a precautionary measure. Since 2001, when the first case of BSE was recorded, over one million cows have been tested.
Premysl Sobotka of the right-of-centre Civic Democrats has been re-elected to the post of Senate chairman. On Wednesday, 74 out of 77 senators present supported him in a secret ballot. It was the highest support for any chairman in the upper house's ten-year history. Mr Sobotka's party has a majority in the senate, holding 41 of 81 seats. Regarding his continuing on in the post, Mr Sobotka said one of his priorities was to increase the Senate's role in foreign policy.
The Austrian company Kapsch will not be able to launch test operations of a new road toll system this Friday. The transport ministry has not given the test run the green light. The ministry says some toll gates are hundreds of metres from where they were supposed to be. It also criticises the use of diesel units. Without the test operation, the introduction of the country's first electronic road toll system for vehicles above 12 tonnes cannot be launched on January 1. The new system is estimated to bring in around 10.5 billion crowns (over 4.5 million US dollars) a year.
Czechs could be able to travel to the United States without a visa within the next two years, says foreign minister Alexander Vondra. Mr Vondra was reacting to Tuesday's pledge by US President George Bush to work with Congress to make it easier for some countries to be included in the visa-waiver programme. Mr Vondra says it is probable that the Czech Republic will be among the countries that will benefit as President Bush is warming up to the European Union's requests to include all EU states in the visa-waiver programme.
President Vaclav Klaus has held an unexpected meeting with the leader
of the Social Democrats Jiri Paroubek. Mr Paroubek officially informed
the president about his party's stance on the current political
situation and presented him with the Social Democrats' Agenda 2010
While the Christian Democrats are prepared to give Agenda 2010 a chance, the Civic Democrats have been sceptical, saying it is too "social democratic".
Extensive renovation and reconstruction work at Prague's main train station is to be launched on December 14. With the aim of attracting more travellers but also Prague residents, the station is to be transformed into a modern centre with shops, restaurants, and banks, within the next five years. With some 100,000 passengers a day, it is the country's biggest station. It was last renovated in 1979.
The Czech Republic has blocked the EU's plans to raise the minimum level of taxes on beer, finance minister Vlastimil Tlusty told reporters on Tuesday. With the minimum duty on most wines zero percent, a tax hike on beer would raise competition levels between brewers and winemakers, he said, adding that the changes are unacceptable in a country where beer is a national product. Last month the European Commission proposed a 31 percent increase in the minimum duty on beer and spirits.
The leaders of the two strongest parties, Civic Democrat Mirek Topolanek
and Social Democrat Jiri Paroubek, have agreed to start talks on a joint
government policy programme. The politicians met for over an hour on
Tuesday after the Social Democrats rejected the idea of a four party
coalition including the Greens and the Christian Democrats but excluding
the Communists that would serve until early elections in 2008.
In almost six months since the elections in June, the five parties in parliament have not been able to agree on the make-up of a new government. Under what they call Agenda 2010, the Social Democrats see a three-party coalition government with the Civic Democrats and the Christian Democrats - with a mandate until 2010 - as the best way out of political deadlock.
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