The Archbishop of Prague, Cardinal Miloslav Vlk, who is turning 75 in May, says he is going to hand in his resignation to Pope Benedict XVI. Under church law, all Roman Catholic bishops are obliged to step down at the age of 75 and it is up to the Pope whether he accepts it or not. Cardinal Vlk told Czech Television he plans to write his resignation in April, saying he really wishes to retire. His predecessor in the post, Cardinal Frantisek Tomasek, served as Prague Archbishop until he was 92 years of age.
The government has approved legislation which will make it easier for foreigners from EU countries to purchase farmland in the Czech Republic. The amendment has yet to be passed by parliament and signed by the president. The changes had earlier been criticised by Czech farmers' associations. Previously, EU citizens were required to prove they had lived in the country for three years, were able to speak Czech and were experts in the field of farming. The government says the previous legislation was not in line with EU law.
Former Social Democrat defence minister Jaroslav Tvrdik says he was never approached by lobbyists concerning the purchase of Gripen fighter jets for the Czech air force. Mr Tvrdik stressed he never encountered any signs of corrupt practices while in office. According to reports by the Swedish press, unexplained bank transfers and large-scale bribery accompanied negotiations about the purchase and eventual leasing of a fleet of Gripen fighters to the Czech Republic by the British-Swedish consortium BAE Systems-Saab.
Police say that growing hemp - which can be used to produce marijuana - is still illegal in the Czech Republic, despite a Supreme Court decision from last year. Police say the ruling only concerned once specific case when it decided growing the plant could not be considered as drug production. The anti-drug squad last year confiscated 108 kg of dried marijuana and destroyed 2,200 plants.
Austrian anti-nuclear activists again blocked two Austrian-Czech border crossings on Wednesday morning in protest at the Czech Temelin nuclear power plant, situated 60 km from the Austrian border. A group of Czech activists supporting nuclear energy arrived at one of the crossings, carrying a banner mocking the Austrian blockade. The anti-nuclear activists say they are protesting against the alleged Czech violation of an Austrian-Czech agreement on Temelin's safety and the sluggish stance of the Austrian government over the issue.
The cabinet has approved a weapons donation from the Czech Republic to Afghan armed forces. The country will donate 20,000 submachine guns and 650 machine guns worth more than 30 million Czech crowns (or 1.4 million US dollars) to Afghanistan. The Defence Ministry says the weapons were surplus to their requirements, adding that the donation was part of international efforts to improve the security situation and boost democracy in Afghanistan. In March, the government is going to discuss a delivery of 12 transport and combat helicopters. The weapons should be delivered to Afghanistan by the end of the year.
The Czech Constitutional Court has refused to reduce the prison term of Emil Novotny, who was sentenced in Thailand for drug trafficking to 50 years in jail. Mr Novotny was arrested in Thailand with over four kilograms of heroin on him in 1995. He spent nine years in Thai prisons and since 2004 he has been serving the rest of his sentence, reduced by amnesties, in the Czech Republic. At 31 he is yet to serve 17 years in prison. Mr Novotny's lawyer had argued the length of the sentence does not correspond to Czech legal standards.
A closed session of the Czech Television Council has decided that Czech TV programming director Frantisek Lambert, who admits to having been a member of pre-1989 People's Militia, will remain in Czech TV's top management. Czech TV director Jiri Janecek is now under pressure for allowing Mr Lambert to hold such a high position. Mr Lambert had broken the law when he failed to declare this fact about his past.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has rejected criticism of the US plans to build a missile shield in Central Europe and described hostile Russian comment as "extremely unfortunate". Dr Rice was reacting to remarks by General Nikolai Solovtsov, commander of Russia's strategic forces, who said on Monday that if Poland and the Czech Republic accepted parts of the US system on their territories Russian missile forces would be "capable of having these installations as their targets". Speaking in Berlin on Wednesday, Dr Rice said that the planned missile defence system in Poland and the Czech Republic was designed to counter a threat from Iran.
The consumption of cigarettes in the Czech Republic has not decreased, despite a marked rise in prices in recent years, Pravo reported. While 23.5 billion cigarettes were sold in 2005, last year the figure was only slightly lower at 23.45 billion, the daily said. A representative of a tobacco company said, however, that the price hikes had led to increased smuggling of cigarettes from Poland and Ukraine, as well as more illegal production.
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