The Czech Defence Ministry is considering buying used supersonic fighter planes to limit the costs of replacing its Soviet-era MiG jets next year, with five offers now on the table. The government was forced to drop plans to buy 24 new Anglo-Swedish Gripen jets after last year's catastrophic floods. Deputy Defence Minister Jan Vana told Reuters there were currently five offers to sell the country supersonic jets, but that a British offer was in what he called "a more advanced stage". NATO ally Britain has offered the Czech Republic 14 older F-3 Tornado jets, which should be replaced in the British armed forces in the next few years.
Leaders of the 10 leading candidates for membership of the European Union -the Czech Republic among them - have signed a landmark treaty in Athens granting them accession to the EU in 2004. The signing ceremony took place at the foot of the Acropolis, watched by leaders of the present EU 15. The treaty was signed by the Czech prime minister Vladimir Spidla and president Vaclav Klaus. Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda and the country's former chief negotiator with the EU, Pavel Telicka, were also due to add their signatures. The treaty must be ratified by all 15 member states and approved by referenda in the candidate countries.
Czech doctors from the country's anti-chemical unit currently based in Kuwait will begin treating Iraqi civilians in a Basra hospital on Thursday, ahead of the arrival of the 7th Army Field Hospital on Friday. Earlier this week parliament approved a plan to send the field hospital to Basra to provide emergency medical care to Iraqis. The anti-chemical unit will assist the field hospital in its work.
Prime Minister Spidla spoke of the historic nature of the occasion. The treaty had closed a chapter of his country's past, he said, a chapter which was too often out of Czech hands, referring to the Nazi and Soviet occupations. President Klaus struck a more pragmatic tone, saying the treaty was not the closing of a chapter, but the beginning of a new era in which Czechs would have to work hard at home and defend their position inside the EU. In an interview published on Wednesday with the German weekly Die Zeit, President Klaus said EU accession was a marriage based on reason rather than love.
Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla has confirmed that if parliament approves the sending of a Czech military field hospital to the Gulf it will be based in the southern Iraqi city of Basra. The prime minister made the statement at the start of a debate on the issue in the Chamber of Deputies on Tuesday. The debate had been scheduled for Thursday but was brought forward due to the speed of developments in the region. The Senate is also discussing the matter, with the approval of both houses widely expected. Defence Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik told the Senate that the first doctors could fly out on Thursday afternoon and be at work 24 hours later.
Police and customs officers in western Bohemia have arrested ten people, including eight foreign nationals and two Czechs, who were allegedly involved in the large-scale smuggling of heroin from the Balkans to Germany. The group had been monitored by a special police and customs team since last August. A total of 8.5 kilograms of heroin was seized during the operation. All those arrested have been taken into custody and if convicted, could face up to 15 years in prison.
Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda has indicated that the Czech embassy in Baghdad will reopen in the near future, saying that he was now looking to raise Czech diplomatic representation in Iraq from the post of charge d'affaires, to ambassador. Mr Svoboda indicated that he was already considering several possible candidates. Meanwhile, Mr Svoboda added that the Czech embassy in Baghdad had not been hit by looting like the Slovak embassy last week. The Czech site had been closed down a month before the US-led military action against Iraq began in March.
Police have charged two men in connection with the kidnapping of Giuseppe Roselli, chairman of the board of directors of the Union Group, which controls some 75% of the troubled small lender Union Banka. The kidnapping, which took place one week ago, saw Mr Roselli and his personal bodyguard held for 24 hours, before being released unharmed. Police so far are revealing no further details as to possible motives for the kidnapping, though Mr Roselli's spokesman has indicated that the banker had been forced to sign a number of documents for alleged misuse.
Thirty water treatment devices, aimed at helping to secure safe drinking water for Iraqi citizens in Basra, southern Iraq, will be sent by the Czech Republic as part of planned humanitarian aid. Czech parliament is to decide this week on whether it will send its 7th field hospital to the region. Defence Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik said on Monday that the water treatment technology would be sent in lieu of one hundred Czech special forces soldiers previously intended for the mission. Mr Tvrdik said that necessary defence support for the field hospital would be provided by military police.
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