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27-08-2007 20:01 | Rosie Johnston

Finance Ministry unveils plans to privatise Budvar Brewery, Czech Airlines and CEZ

The Ministry of Finance is preparing the privatisation of Ceske Aerolinie, the national airline, Prague Airport, Budejovicky Budvar brewery and part of the postal service. Deputy Finance Minister Ivan Fuksa outlined the government's privatisation plans in an interview with Mlada Fronta Dnes on Monday. According to Mr. Fuksa, the sale of Czech energy giant CEZ is also being discussed. This year, the government is selling off 7% of CEZ to pay for the upkeep and expansion of the national motorway network.

Mr. Fuksa told Mlada Fronta that teams had been formed within the Ministry to work on the privatisation deals. He said that brands such as Budejovicky Budvar beer would only be sold to those willing to maintain the product's integrity. The sale of the Budvar brewery has, however, sparked criticism. In a television debate on Sunday, deputy prime-minister Jiri Cunek spoke out against the plans, saying that it made little sense to sell off a company that made the government billions of crowns every year.

Finance Ministry backtracks on joining the Euro by 2012

Meanwhile, the Finance Ministry has shelved its idea of the Czech Republic adopting the Euro by 2012, reported Euro magazine on Monday. This follows Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek publicly voicing his disagreement with the 2012 deadline. The Czech Republic originally wanted to adopt the Euro as early as 2009, but had to postpone the move because of the state its public finances. Subsequently, the Finance Minister, Miroslav Kalousek, set the date of 2012 for accession to the Euro zone, but this did not gain the support of the Czech National Bank. The Finance Ministry and the National Bank have now agreed that the country should not join the Euro before the public finance deficit is below 1% of GDP.

Health Minister Julinek advocates a wider range of insurance policies

The Czech Health Minister Tomas Julinek would like to see a wider range of health insurance policies available in the Czech Republic. On Monday, he told Lidove Noviny that his ministry was working on the proposals. For those who take great care of their health, Mr. Julinek would like to see lower health insurance costs. While for those wanting V.I.P. service during a hospital stay, Mr. Julinek advocates a more expensive, luxury, health insurance package. Health insurance companies are said to welcome the proposals.

Czech Republic to help fight Greek fires

The Czech Republic has offered Greece 5 million CZK (250 thousand USD) to help it battle the devastating forest fires that have killed over 60 people in the last 4 days. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced on Monday that it has also offered Greece the services of a Bell 412 HP police helicopter, which can store up to 900 litres of water in its tanks. The Czech Republic is one of 12 countries to have offered Greece assistance. Teams from France, Canada, Italy and Cyprus are already in the country tackling the blaze.

Pit bull attack leads MPs to discuss dog ownership restrictions

Plans are being discussed to tighten restrictions on dog ownership in the Czech Republic, following a pit bull terrier killing its owner at the weekend. Josef Hovorka was fatally attacked by his dog when he tried to feed it on Sunday. Now, MP Michaela Sojdrova has suggested that dog owners should be subject to tighter regulations. She proposes that each dog should be implanted with a microchip, so that its owner is more easily traceable. Similarly, all those wishing to own a dog would, according to her suggestions, first have to undergo a psychological test.

Schwarzenberg defends radar base in Austrian press

The Czech Foreign Minister, Karel Schwarzenberg, has reacted to claims made by the Austrian Defence Minister, Norbert Darabos, that the planned U.S radar base to be built in the Czech Republic is a "provocation". Mr. Darabos said last week that the U.S building a missile shield in the former Eastern Europe would provoke Russia. But in comments made in Monday's Kurier - an Austrian daily - Foreign Minister Schwarzenberg said that there was no such thing as "Eastern Europe", and that the Czech base would be further west than a similar Austrian missile shield. The Austrian government has distanced itself from Mr. Darabos' comments, calling them unprofessional.

Prime Minister unworried by complaint to Constitutional Court

Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek has said that he is unworried by the opposition Social Democrat's threat to take the government's reform package to the Constitutional Court. He told TV Prima on Sunday that this was a standard move, and something he himself did frequently as leader of the opposition. The Social Democrats have complained to the Constitutional Court that the public spending reforms passed in Parliament last Tuesday were in breach of the constitution. Mr. Topolanek said they had a "legitimate right" to complain, but that these attempts to sweep the reforms under the carpet "must not, and will not, succeed".

Schwarzenberg stresses need for consistency in foreign policy

At a meeting of Czech ambassadors on Monday, Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg called for consistency in the country's foreign policy. He called for the strengthening of transatlantic bonds, saying the Czech Republic and its partners over the Atlantic "were linked by the values they shared". Mr. Schwarzenberg said that the Czech Republic's relations with neighbouring Poland and Germany were excellent, while relations with Austria were good, with the occasional hitch. Mr. Schwarzenberg was addressing an annual meeting of Czech ambassadors in Prague's Cerninsky Palac when he made the remarks.

Shopping-centre evacuated following anonymous bomb-threat

Police in the Southern Bohemian town of Ceske Budejovice received an anonymous bomb threat on Monday afternoon, which led them to evacuate the town's Mercury shopping centre. The centre was closed for over two hours while police scoured the building, in the end, however, no bomb was found. Police estimate that hundreds of people were evacuated from the building, though there is as yet no precise number. A police spokesperson said that retailers had suffered "substantial" losses because of the scare.

Petr Cech new face of Marks and Spencer

The new face of Marks & Spencer here in the Czech Republic is to be Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech, it was announced on Monday. The footballer has been photographed alongside his wife wearing clothes from the British retailer's autumn collection. The photo-shoot took place on the Dorset coast earlier this month, and the final images are expected to be displayed throughout September and October in the Czech towns of Brno, Karlove Vary and Prague.

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It will be sunny over the next couple of days, with showers, and slightly lower temperatures of around 17 to 18 degrees centigrade.

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