Fifty-five percent of Czechs approve of their country's membership in NATO, according to the results of a survey conducted by the CVVM agency. Twenty nine percent of respondents criticized the country's presence in NATO and over 15 percent said they did not concern themselves with the issue. Those who approve of NATO membership argued that in the present day a country the size of the Czech Republic needed to be part of a collective defence system. 41 percent of respondents in the poll said NATO membership protected the Czech Republic's independence, while 54 percent said it made the country dependent on foreign powers.
A Czech government delegation is in the Seychelles to negotiate a bilateral agreement on the extradition of criminals. According to foreign ministry spokeswoman Zuzana Kuncova no details of the talks will be disclosed for the time being. The Czech Republic has intensified its efforts to speed up the signing of an extradition deal in connection with the case of the Czech fugitive Radovan Krejcir who is being prosecuted for extensive fraud and conspiracy to murder in the Czech Republic. Seychelles authorities are cooperating with the Czech police but have refused to extradite Krejcir on the grounds that he is a Seychelles citizen.
The clean-up of an illegal toxic waste dump in the town of Libcany has been successfully concluded. The firm in charge of the operation said that since last April it had removed more than 600 tons of toxic waste from the site of the former Vertex chemicals company. Experts are now testing soil and underground water for possible contamination. The chemicals company Vertex went bankrupt some years ago and simply abandoned the plant leaving all the toxic waste on the premises. Four people have been charged in connection with the case.
President Klaus is to visit the United States in March to discuss the possible deployment of a US radar base on Czech territory. According to Thursday's edition of Mlada Fronta Dnes the Czech president will meet with US Vice-President Dick Cheney to discuss the conditions of such a deal. Unlike Poland, the Czech Republic has not yet raised any conditions in connection with the radar base and talks are expected to last until the end of the year. Critics of the US plan emphasize the fact that the American missile defence system in central Europe would not adequately address Europe's defence needs.
Over 1,000 officers have left the police force since the beginning of this year after a new civil service law slashed their pay. Deputy Interior Minister Jaroslav Salivar said that the vast majority of them had served in the force for the greater part of their lives. Police officers criticize the new civil service law for having stripped them of bonuses for work on holidays, at the weekends and for night shifts. The police force has said it would try to find some other form of financial compensation.
The opposition Social Democratic Party has criticized the Czech government for its negative stand with regard to the EU constitution. Shadow foreign minister Lubomir Zaoralek said on Thursday that the Czech government had taken a biased stand and was showing a lack of willingness in the search for consensus, which could harm the Czech Republic's position in the EU. Like Britain and Poland, the Czech Republic is seen as one of the strongest opponent of the EU treaty.
The opposition Social Democrats have criticized the fact that the government has said it is willing to consider privatising the state owned beer brewery Budejovicky Budvar. Shadow agriculture minister Michal Hasek said that he was concerned about Budvar's future should it fall into the hands of the rival US company Anhauser-Busch which has ongoing trademark disputes with Budvar in several countries. Hasek said the government should seek other sources of income for the state budget than from the sale of successful companies such as Budvar or the power giant CEZ.
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.
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.
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