The European Union has said it is confident that nine of its newest member states will join the block's Schengen border-free zone by the end of the year. Portuguese Interior Minister Rui Pereira, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, said on Tuesday that the Schengen expansion might take place just before Christmas of this year - i.e. two weeks earlier than planned. The border-free Schengen zone now includes 13 EU countries plus Norway and Iceland. The 2004 newcomers are the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. Many have said that an end to border checks is essential for their citizens to feel part of the EU.
The Green Party leadership has failed to agree on who should replace education minister Dana Kuchtova. The minister announced her resignation last week amidst intense media and political pressure over a botched application for EU funds which threatened to paralyze a number of important research and development projects. The Greens, who have a right to the top Education Ministry post within the coalition agreement signed by the three governing parties, are considering both party and unaffiliated candidates.
Elite troops from the Prostejov military base are preparing for a new mission in Afghanistan, Military Intelligence Service director Ondrej Palenik said during an inspection visit to the base by U.S. Ambassador Richard Graber. If the Czech government and Parliament approve the mission the Prostejov unit would most likely operate in the south or east of Afghanistan. During its Afghan mission last year, the unit took part in more than 30 combat operations and received high praise for its performance. Ambassador Graber said that today the Czech unit was comparable to the US army's special forces.
Interior Minister Ivan Langer has been fined 9,000 crowns for the leak of the so-called Kubice report - a classified report by the country's intelligence service. The incident happened just days ahead of last year's parliamentary elections and the leak of the report, which claimed that organized crime had infiltrated the Czech civil service, caused a public uproar. Social Democrat leader Jiri Paroubek claims that his party lost the elections as a result of the ensuing scandal. Minister Langer has paid the fine but argues that he was not to blame. He says that at the time the committee was dealing with the Kubice report, he went to the bathroom for a couple of minutes, leaving the report open on the table. Any one of the people who remained in the room could have copied parts of the document then, Langer said. The fine was imposed by the National Security Office.
Former deputy local development minister Petr Forman has rejected accusations of EU funds fraud during his time in office. The former deputy minister and nine other people have been charged with taking over a government agency created to funnel EU funds with the sole target of acquiring the cash in its account. The state prosecutor in the case said that by paying one million crowns for the agency the accused had gained access to 144 million crowns then in the account. The accused, who face jail sentences of between five and twelve years, have all pleaded not guilty.
In connection with the approaching date of the Schengen enlargement the Czech foreigners' police on Monday carried out a nationwide operation to clamp down on foreigners residing in the country illegally. Over 500 officers checked out dormitories, metro and railway stations, construction sites, factories and gambling houses where illegal aliens tend to hang around. Expulsion proceedings have been launched against 12 foreigners, the circumstances of many others is being investigated. According to a police spokeswoman the search also uncover four wanted persons.
Two Czech soldiers serving at the Basra military base in southern Iraq face charges for failing to perform their guard duties properly. One of the soldiers allowed a vehicle into the base without checking it, while the other abandoned his post in order to take a ride on a borrowed motorcycle. The Czech Defense Ministry says it is planning to expel both soldiers from the service on the grounds that by their irresponsible behaviour they threatened the lives of hundreds of others. According to martial law, dereliction of duty carries a maximum penalty of five years in jail.
Standard & Poor's Ratings Services said today it had raised its long-term foreign currency credit ratings on the Czech Republic to A from A- and its long-term local currency rating to A+ from A. S&P's credit analyst Kai Stukenbrock said the upgrade reflected the implementation of public finance reform, which will help bring down the Czech Republic's comparatively high government deficit. The ratings are furthermore supported by good economic growth prospects, a well diversified and wealthy economy, and an above-par external position, Stukenbrock said. The higher the rating, the cheaper the country can borrow money.
The Social Democratic Party has threatened to expel former prime minister
Stanislav Gross from its ranks if he fails to explain how he acquired
shares reportedly worth 300 million Czech crowns or 15 million US dollars
in the power company Moravia Energo. Party vice-chairman Bohuslav Sobotka
told journalists at the weekend that action would be taken against Mr Gross
if he could not satisfactorily rebuff allegations that he used insider
information gleaned while in politics to acquire the shares for a fraction
of their estimated market value.
The former primer minister denies any wrongdoing and says the price of the shares quoted by the press is massively overvalued. Mr Gross left politics two years ago after failing to explain where he got 1.2 million crowns to purchase a luxury apartment in Prague.
A new survey suggests that Czechs go to the doctor more frequently and use more unnecessary medicines than most other European nations. The research carried out by the Fakta agency found that Czechs pay an average of nearly 16 visits to their doctor per year, which is around twice the rate of neighbouring countries such as Austria and Germany. According to the analysis more than 20 billion Czech crowns or around 1 billion US dollars are annually squandered in the health service due to a waste of resources and corruption. The survey was commissioned by the government, which wants to use it as the basis for an all-party debate on future funding for the public healthcare system.
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