Members of the NATO Russia Permanent Joint Council have begun meeting in Prague. The meeting is part of the spring session of NATO's Parliamentary Assembly, which represents the Alliance's 19 members. NATO members are in Prague for talks expected to be dominated by the recent conflict in Iraq. The Czech Republic joined NATO in 1999, and last year hosted the first ever NATO summit to be held in the former Soviet bloc.
The Czech prime minister, Vladimir Spidla, and his Slovak counterpart,
Mikulas Dzurinda, have agreed to co-ordinate efforts to deal with the
increasing number of Slovak Romanies applying for asylum in the Czech
Republic. Speaking after talks in Prague on Friday, the two leaders said
ministries in both countries would set up joint working groups to deal
with the issue. Slovaks currently make up the largest group of asylum
seekers in the Czech Republic.
The Czech and Slovak prime ministers also said co-operation between the Visegrad Four, which also includes Poland and Hungary, would continue once all four join the European Union. Mr Dzurinda visited Prague less than a week after Slovaks voted to join the union; the Czech Republic is to hold a referendum on the matter in the middle of June.
Some 78 percent of Czechs are likely to vote Yes to joining the EU, according to a poll by the TNS-Factum agency released on Friday. Turnout is expected to exceed 50 percent. Another poll by the STEM agency suggests the biggest worry voters have over EU accession is that prices will rise, with 27 percent expressing that concern. On the positive side, 47 percent of Czechs believe joining the EU will improve the workings of the country's legal system. If the referendum is passed, the country will join the union in May next year.
Trade and Industry Minister Milan Urban said on Thursday that the Czech Republic might expand its Temelin nuclear power plant even though its has yet to bring the station's first two reactors fully online after years of breakdowns and problems. The owner of Temelin and the country's main power producer, the state-controlled company CEZ, is to make a decision on new power sources next year. On Thursday the daily Mlada Fronta Dnes quoted Trade and Industry Minister Milan Urban as saying the expansion of nuclear power is one option to replace at least 60 percent of the four-gigawatt capacity at obsolete coal-burning power plants over the next fifteen years. The south Bohemian nuclear plant has raised many protests in neighbouring Austria because of its combination of Soviet design and Western control systems. The Czechs government says the plant is safe.
The former President Vaclav Havel is to be awarded the country's highest state distinctions : the Order of the White Lion and the Order of Tomas Garrigue Masaryk. The proposal for the former Czech president to receive these distinctions was approved by both houses of Parliament. It is not yet clear when the award giving ceremony will take place. Vaclav Havel spent thirteen years in office, the first three of which he served as president of Czechoslovakia.
A Parliament commission is to ascertain who is responsible for the Czech Republic's lost arbitration with the Bermuda based media company CME, resulting in a ten billion crown fine for the country. An international arbitration procedure and a Swedish court of appeal both ruled that the Czech Republic had damaged CME by failing to protect its investment in private TV Nova. CME helped to launch the station in the early 90s but was later sidelined by its management. The man who is believed to have been behind the operation, TV Nova's former general director Vladimir Zelezny was sacked last week by the television's new owners. Zelezny claims that he acted within the bounds of the law.
A proposed bilateral agreement between the Czech Republic and the Vatican was rejected by Parliament on Wednesday. The agreement, which was to have established the relationship between the State and the Church, was rejected by 110 out of 177 deputies present in the Lower House. The Communists, Civic Democrats and some Social Democrats who raised their hands against it said that in its present form the agreement would have given the Catholic Church a privileged position in the Czech Republic. Because Parliament cannot amend international agreements, work on the treaty will have to begin all over again. The Christian Democrats in the Lower House expressed bitter disappointment over the outcome of the vote, saying that two years of hard work had been lost.
The country's trade agency Czechtrade has announced that more than 600 firms have offered their services in the post-war reconstruction of Iraq. Czechtrade director Martin Tlapa said the names of the firms had been forwarded to U.S. bodies for consideration. The Czech government says it will spend around 20 million dollars financing reconstruction projects by Czech firms in Iraq.
The Czech Republic has been asked to contribute to the establishment of NATO's first multi-national battalion for the protection against weapons of mass destruction. The battalion would be part of NATO's rapid reaction forces. Speaking to journalists in Brussels, Czech Defence Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik said preparations for its creation are to start immediately, in order to be ready to serve in operations by the second half of 2004.
The chief of Prague's flood-damaged metro network, Ladislav Houdek, has resigned. Prague's Transit Authority announced his resignation on Monday without comment. The Metro's safety chief also stepped down on Friday amid an investigation into whether the underground railway was adequately protected during last summer's disaster. According to Prague mayor Pavel Bem, experts have come to the conclusion that the metro was flooded because it was only built to withstand so-called "century floods" - floods which arrive just once a century. However, the city transportation commission has also been questioning whether officials did enough to protect the metro system.
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