The country's industrialists have called on the centre right government to speed up reforms and remove all existing barriers to growth and investment. The business community sent the prime minister a petition listing the strategic needs of Czech industry, including a fixed date for adoption of the euro, a simplification of the tax system and a more transparent energy policy. The open letter to the prime minister says that the government's reform plan is a step in the right direction but falls short of the country's immediate needs.
Prague City Hall says it is determined to prevent a march by right-wing extremists through Prague's Jewish quarter on November 10th, the anniversary of Kristallnacht, the Nazi pogrom on Jews in 1938. In the past 24 hours right-wing extremists have announced eight marches along eight different routes and the city hall has banned them all. The planned march, the pretext of which is opposition to Czech involvement in the occupation of Iraq, has raised a great deal of criticism from leading politicians, Jewish organizations and members of the public.
Prime Ministr Mirek Topolanek has promised Czech prisons more money in the coming year. On a visit to the Plzen-Bory prison on Tuesday the PM said Czech prisons could be given 100 million crowns more in 2008, getting a total of 440 million. Prison authorities say, however, that Czech prisons would need investments worth billions of crowns to reach European standards. Prison facilities are overcrowded and government officials are considering the introduction of alternative punishments.
The government has earmarked 1.25 billion crowns in development aid to municipalities bordering on the potential site of the US radar. In an effort to overcome opposition to the plan the government promised to boost the local infrastructure, finance new sewage and water systems and invest in a number of local projects. This is to be done whether or not the radar is built. The mayors of the Brdy region originally asked for three times as much money but a special government commission said their demands were exaggerated.
Deputy Prime Minister Jiri Cunek has said he will sue Czech Television for claiming that back in 1997 he and his family had drawn welfare benefits at a time when he was making millions of crowns. The country's public broadcaster said on Monday it had certificates to prove that Mr. Cunek drew social benefits and housing allowances from the state at a time when he deposited 3.5 million crowns (close to 190,000 US dollars) into three different bank accounts. Mr. Cunek told journalists that all he had received from the state were birth and child allowances, both across-the-board benefits any parent is entitled to. However the daily Pravo on Tuesday published a copy of a certificate allegedly proving that the state provided Jiri Cunek with both a housing allowance and social benefits in 1997. Since entering high politics Mr. Cunek has been dogged by scandal. In February of this year the police accused him of corruption but the prosecution was halted due to a lack of evidence.
Czech football star Milan Baros has found himself at the centre of a highly-publicized row in the centre right Civic Democratic Party over who promised his football academy a hefty grant following his help campaigning in the elections. The Lyon-based striker actively supported the Civic Democrats in the June 2006 elections, taking part in rallies and appearing on billboards across the country. Following the party's election win he asked for a 10 million crown grant (540,000 US dollars) for his football academy in the east of the country. His application was not successful and there is now a furious row about who actually led him to believe that the cash would be forthcoming.
The case of choirmaster Bohumil Kulinsky, who was twice acquitted of sexually abusing teenage choirgirls, is back in court. The Prague High Court recently cancelled both verdicts and ruled that the testimonies of 49 girls who were allegedly abused by Mr Kulinsky over a period of ten years should be heard anew. The court is now questioning Mr Kulinsky on individual counts of the indictment. The choirmaster has admitted to having had love affairs with several girls in the choir but claims that all of them were over fifteen and none of them had been forced into the relationship. If found guilty, Bohumil Kulinsky could face up to 12 years in prison.
Czech and US experts have started a third round of talks on the possibility of siting a US tracking radar on Czech soil. According to the Czech Foreign Ministry the talks are focusing exclusively on the legal and technical details of the plan. A foreign ministry spokesman stressed that Washington's controversial proposal for a Russian presence at the site was not on the agenda. The US proposal was unveiled by US Defense Secretary Robert Gates in Prague last week and caused outrage both among politicians and the public. The Czech prime minister said later that only Russian observers, and not soldiers, might be permitted at the facility, but the proposal remains highly sensitive.
The Russian airline Aeroflot is interested in Czech Airlines, head of the company Valery Okulov said in remarks published Tuesday. He said Aeroflot had already had preliminary talks on taking part in Czech Airlines' privatisation but the Czech government had not as yet set the terms for a final sale. The Czech government holds 100 percent of the airline, which is part of the same Skyteam airline alliance as Aeroflot.
Almost a half of 400 million crowns, or more than 21 million US dollars, from EU Phare fund that was meant to boost small-scale businesses in the Czech Republic in 1994 were used inappropriately, according to the Czech Regional Development Ministry. The money was instead used for administrative tasks. Regional Development Minister Jiri Cunek said on Monday that the misused funds will be reimbursed by the government that will also revive the programme.