Foreign trade enjoyed a record surplus last year, to the tune of 86.1 billion CZK (4.31 billion USD). The Czech Statistical Office unveiled the figure on Tuesday, adding that this was over twice the surplus recorded in 2006. Exports of machinery and transportation were responsible for a large portion of the surplus, while chemical and food producers had a relatively poor year in 2007. Exports were up 15% year on year in 2007, while imports grew by 13.1%.
The Czech Interior Ministry has said that it plans to cut the number of employees by 20% by the end of the year. On Tuesday, a ministry spokesperson said that the redundancies were part of a complete financial overhaul. The Interior Ministry also plans to sell off property, belonging both to the Czech police force, and to the ministry itself. It hopes to raise some 800 million CZK (40 million USD) through such cost-cutting measures. A representative of the ministry has said that the redundancies and sale of property are necessary to cut expenses, and so that the ministry’s best employees can be better remunerated.
The Czech football team lost 1:0 in a friendly against Greece on Tuesday. The Greeks’ winning goal came ten minutes before the whistle and was scored by Dimitris Salpigidis. Both trainers fielded a team of younger, less-experienced players, with six players making their debut for the Czech side alone. The game was placed in Nicosia, Cyprus, to a crowd of 850.
Meanwhile, the Communist Party has said that it will make a final decision on whether to support incumbent president Václav Klaus on Thursday. Mr Klaus met delegates of the Communist Party on Tuesday, and said that he ‘couldn’t say that he had been pledged no votes’ by the Communists following on from the meeting. Those who attended the meeting said that Mr Klaus and the Communists had agreed on certain matters, but remained at odds on a number of key issues. Mr Klaus’s rival in the elections, Jan Švejnar, is set to meet the Communists on Wednesday. Many believe that the votes of Communist Party MPs may tip the scales in Friday’s presidential elections. The party has yet to rule out fielding a third candidate, who would stand against both Mr Klaus and Mr Švejnar, at the last minute.
The Czech Lower House postponed a debate on whether healthcare fees should be abolished on Tuesday. It also put-off a debate on whether smoking should be banned in the country’s restaurants. The debates were both rescheduled due to the absence of the Health Minister, Tomáš Julínek, who is ill, and not expected back before next week. Instead, the Lower House discussed the status of Kosovo during most of Tuesday’s sitting.
Czechs traveling to the United States could be able to do so without a visa by the end of the year. On Tuesday, the magazine European Voice suggested that the Czech Republic could be included in the US visa-waiver programme alongside five other EU countries by the end of 2008. The magazine speculated that Malta, Cyprus, Hungary, Estonia and Greece would also be included in the visa-waiver programme, while the Czech Republic’s neighbours Slovakia and Poland would both have to wait longer. The speculation coincides with the visit of Richard Barth, the head of US Homeland Security, who is in Prague this week to discuss a Czech-US memorandum on border security.
The opposition Social Democrats would like the media to be present should President Václav Klaus address the party’s MPs in the run up to Friday’s elections. Mr Klaus is seeking a second term in office, and is the favourite to win in the upcoming presidential elections. He has not yet confirmed that he will meet Social Democrat MPs, though his website suggests that he may visit the party’s deputies on Wednesday morning. On Tuesday, a spokesperson for the Social Democrats said that the party wanted any debate with Mr Klaus in the run up to the elections to be open to the public, and for this reason the party had invited the media along. The opposition Social Democrats have already pledged their support to Mr Klaus’s rival in the elections, the economist Jan Švejnar.
The publishing house Albatros has filed charges against an unnamed individual for printing and distributing a version of ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’ in Czech, which they deem illegal. The publishers have also called upon the supermarket chain Tesco to stop selling this version of the latest Harry Potter book. Albatros own the rights to the Harry Potter series in Czech, and have previously taken a rival publishing house to court over the publication of a pirate version of ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’, a case which Albatros subsequently won. Tesco has said that is will not stop selling the copies of the book that it has in its warehouses, to which Albatros has responded that it may press charges.
Czech police have detained a Hungarian national who was reported dead by his wife in 2001. The unnamed individual is now wanted back in Hungary on charges of fraud, said police in Budapest Tuesday. The man’s wife said that he had drowned while windsurfing on holiday in Greece, she is now being questioned by police in Hungary as an accomplice. The man had taken out several life insurance policies in 2000, worth more than 200 million forints (1.15 million USD), and he also bought travel insurance before going to Greece, Hungarian police said in a statement. His wife had subsequently tried to cash the insurance policies without success.
The regional governor for Southern Bohemia, Jan Zahradník, has responded to EU demands that a pig farm on the site of a wartime concentration camp for Romanies in the region be relocated. Mr Zahradník said the European Parliament’s calls to relocate the pig-farm ‘complicate ongoing negotiations’ and are ‘counterproductive’. A spokesperson for the regional governor added that the relocation of the pig-farm would cause job-losses and financial difficulties for farmers in the area. The region had previously agreed with the Czech government and Romanies living in the region to erect a memorial to the Romany Holocaust nearby the original site. But last week, the European Parliament reprimanded Czech authorities for not moving the pig-farm to another location and, on Monday, the Czech Committee for the Redress of the Roma Holocaust followed suit.
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