Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg and his Slovak counterpart Jan Kubis agreed in Prague on Friday to jointly continue efforts to obtain visa-free admission for Czech and Slovak citizens visiting the United States. The US still has to take several steps towards changing its visa regime that could result in the lifting of entry visas for Czechs and Slovaks, Mr Schwarzenberg said. Earlier this week, US senators approved the proposal; now the legislation will be debated in the House of Representatives.
The European Social Democrats - including representatives from the Czech Republic and Poland - have rejected the idea of US anti-missile defence bases being deployed on Czech and Polish territory. The representatives met on Friday. Martin Hasek - the head of the Social Democratic party's deputies' group in the Czech Republic made clear that such a proposal would only be acceptable within a NATO framework. The US has formally requested both Poland and the Czech Republic to host missile and radar bases on their territory, part of a system aimed at preventing potential missile attacks by rogue states.
On Saturday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov again warned against the placement of US bases in central Europe as part of a broader US defence shield. He said that the project would have a negative impact on relations between Russia and NATO. It is widely expected that the proposed US shield will be the main issue for discussion at the NATO-Russia Council meeting set for next month.
According to the Czech daily Mlada Fronta Dnes, Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek is going to present a proposal to the government introducing a flat income tax rate of 15 percent as part of planned reforms. He is expected to put forward the proposal in two weeks time. The rate is lower than was previously expected. Currently the amount of income tax one pays in the Czech Republic depends on one's overall yearly earnings and those are rated along a four-point scale. Mlada Fronta Dnes points out that the new rate, if approved, will most benefit those earning incomes upwards of 35,000 crowns per month. At the same time, the finance ministry has said that under the proposal it will raise tax allowances. If the government backs the plan and it finds backing in the Lower House of Parliament, the changes could come into effect in 2008.
Around one hundred right-wing extremists demonstrated in the Moravian town of Blansko on Saturday, monitored by around fifty Czech police. The demonstrators reportedly gathered to protest against a small Mongolian minority of around four hundred in the town, many of whom are employed at a local firm. One of the extremists was reportedly arrested for giving the banned "Hitler salute". The protest was otherwise without incident.
In related news, the village of Trokavec near Brdy, central Bohemia (the region slated for the possible US radar base) has held a local referendum on the issue. The village of one hundred inhabitants began voting on Saturday morning, with 90 percent having cast their ballot by two in the afternoon. All indications are that most residents voted "against". In the referendum locals were asked to vote either "for" or "against" town representatives trying to block the US proposal. Neighbouring villages in the area are also expected to hold their own referenda on the issue in the coming weeks.
Czech tennis player Martin Damm and doubles partner Leander Paes of India have made the doubles final at Indian Wells, in the United States. On Friday the two defeated the Swedish-Belarusian duo of Bjorkman and Mirnyj 12:10 in a so-called supertie-break. Damm and his partner will now face Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram of Israel for the championship title.
Social Democrat deputy Bohuslav Sobotka has denied reports in the media that his party is weighing whether or not to lodge a criminal complaint against former party chairman Milos Zeman for signing an apparently disadvantageous contract ten years ago. The party has been dealing with demands by lawyer Zdenek Altner, who says he is owed almost 20 billion crowns in overdue payments by the party, for helping it in a past legal case. Mr Sobotka has stated on the internet that reports until now had been "pure speculation". He has indicated that the Social Democratic Party was looking into ways of dealing with the Altner case.
In related news, the east Moravian town of Vsetin, where Jiri Cunek was
mayor, has denied a story by Czech newspaper Lidove Noviny suggesting
inappropriate dealings over 4.5 million crowns (around 250,000 US
dollars). The sum was received as a down payment, the daily writes, in
the town's sale of its majority stake in its professional ice hockey
club. A first payment of 4.5 million crowns was paid out after the sale
was agreed with a Russian company, but according to Lidove Noviny the
funds later disappeared. Town Hall representatives have dismissed the
story as false, saying they did not receive the money at all and will
consider suing Lidove Noviny for libel.
Vsetin hockey club chairman Oldrich Stefl has told the media that the 4.5 million, roughly a fifth of the agreed price, were received by the club but invested. The deal then fell through and procedures were begun on the cancellation of the contract. According to Mr Stefl, negotiations with the Russian buyer on the return of the funds will now depend on the final cancellation of the sale.
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