Czech exports to the European Union got off to a surprisingly strong start at the beginning of the year, rising in January by almost eight percent year-on-year to 74 billion crowns. Economists, however, are warning against early optimism, saying the numbers on Czech exports do not reflect negative economic trends in neighbouring Germany. Another factor somewhat distorting the current figures: a 3 percent drop in Czech exports last year. Some Czech economists expect positive growth in exports in 2003 to rise by more than ten percent by the end of the year, stimulating overall economic growth. Seventy percent of Czech exports go to the EU, with around half of that going to Germany. Dominant exports to EU countries include automobiles, electrical appliances, office tools, and computers.
The ruling coalition has officially nominated university professor Jan Sokol as the government's candidate for president. A total of 97 of the 101 coalition deputies in the lower house signed Mr Sokol's nomination. The two houses of parliament meet in a joint session on Friday in a third attempt to elect a successor to Vaclav Havel, who stepped down as president three weeks ago. Mr Sokol faces former prime minister Vaclav Klaus, nominated by the opposition Civic Democrats. Every vote will be crucial if he is to defeat Mr Klaus on Friday, and he spent Tuesday lobbying for support among Social Democrat MPs, several of whom have refused to back him.
A 72-year-old man who shot dead a senior Nigerian diplomat in Prague last week is being given psychiatric treatment in a prison hospital. The elderly man, who reportedly lost his life savings in an oil investment scam, has been charged with murder and faces up to 15 years in prison. He is said to be severely traumatized and prison officials say he might try to commit suicide if left unattended.
Britain has returned a further 88 Czech citizens - almost all of whom believed to be members of the Roma minority - after they were denied asylum in the UK. It was the latest in a series of forcible repatriations of Czech Roma by the British authorities. British officials recently resumed screening all passengers flying to the United Kingdom from Prague's Ruzyne airport. Britain first launched the controls in June 2001, in an effort to prevent Czech Roma from applying for asylum in the UK.
The Czech government has approved a new health reform plan which is to be implemented over the next three years. The planned reform addresses inadequacies of the present system, among them a lack of emergency units and specialized care in some areas of the country. Health minister Marie Souckova says she would like Czech patients to be able to chose their physician, to be better informed about their treatment and to be more active in prevention. Although the law enables Czechs to chose their doctor this is practically impossible in many areas of the country, where there is a lack of physicians, waiting rooms are overcrowded and doctors work overtime in order to keep emergency units open on weekends.
The 72 year old pensioner who shot dead the Nigerian consul in Prague last week is being given psychiatric treatment in a prison hospital. The elderly man, who reportedly lost his life savings in an oil investment scam, has been charged with murder and faces up to 15 years in prison. He is said to be severely traumatized and prison officials say they fear he might try to commit suicide if left unattended.
The trial against former communist secret police investigator Alois Grebenicek which was to begin on Monday has had to be postponed since his defense attorney Cestmir Kubat is suffering from the flu. Judge Radomira Vesela who received medical confirmation of Mr. Kubat's illness has set the next trial date for March 24th. Mr. Grebenicek, who is 81, is accused of having tortured political prisoners in the late 40s and early 50s. Although proceedings against him have been underway for five years now, the accused never appeared in court due to his ailing health. Mr Grebenicek's son is the leader of the present-day Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia.
Some 300 anarchists took to the streets of Prague on Saturday to protest at a possible war against Iraq. During the demonstration, some protesters held speeches that harshly criticised the ongoing US preparations for war, saying that the United States' motive was not Iraqi disarmament but Iraq's oil. While lashing out at US foreign policy, the protesters stressed that their demonstration was neither in support of Saddam Hussein's regime nor Islamic terrorism. Carrying banners with slogans such as "no blood for oil" and "war against the people, the people against war", the protesters then proceeded through the city centre to the US Embassy in Prague.
If an ad hoc pro-war coalition of the United States and other countries is formed and a war on Iraq is declared without the support of the UN Security Council, the Czech Republic will not be a part of the operation. Speaking in a Czech TV discussion programme on Saturday, Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda reiterated that Czech forces would take part in military action against Iraq only with the support of the United Nations. On Thursday, US Defence Minister Donald Rumsfeld said that it was now only up to President Bush to declare war on Iraq as US troops are ready for the operation.
The joint Czech-Slovak chemical and biological warfare unit that is to start operating in Kuwait on March 1st is to become the biggest in the world, according to Slovak Defence Minister Ivan Simko. Last week, the Czech and Slovak defence ministers signed a bilateral agreement to form the Czech-Slovak unit for the protection against weapons of mass destruction. While the Czech members of the contingent are already active in Kuwait, their Slovak colleagues are expected to arrive at the beginning of next week. Although the unit is deployed as part of the Enduring Freedom operation, it is to be responsible for the protection of the allies' troops as well as civilians in around 26 countries if there should be a war against Iraq.
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