Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla, Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda and other
senior officials have returned to the Czech Republic after a summit to
decide on a constitution for the European Union ended in failure. Talks
broke down on Saturday after Spain and Poland refused to surrender voting
rights they won at the Nice summit, three years ago.
A Czech official told the CTK news agency that the inter-governmental conference could continue in the New Year, when Ireland takes over the presidency of the EU. The Czech Republic and nine other mostly former communist countries are due to join the Union on May 1.
A bill was also passed on Friday allowing the building of two weirs on the Elbe River in north Bohemia, despite protests from the environment minister, Libor Ambrozek, and environmental groups. Mr Ambrozek said the building of the weirs would damage the eco-system in the areas in question and was in contravention of EU norms.
A former Iraqi official has told United States investigators that he
did not have a meeting in Prague with the suspected leader of the
September 11 attacks, the New York Times reported on Saturday. Ahmad
Khalil Samir al-Ani denied meeting Mohamed Atta in the Czech capital.
Though Czech officials had initially said that the two men had met, the CIA and FBI eventually concluded that no such meeting took place. A possible connection between Iraq and the September attacks was a reason used by some conservatives in the US to justify invading Iraq earlier this year.
The Chamber of Deputies has launched a campaign against pawn shops which deal in stolen goods, passing a bill on Friday under which shopkeepers would have to ascertain the identity of clients. The bill's proponents said there were 1,800 pawn shops in Prague alone, many of which were open around the clock.
Meanwhile, the Chamber of Deputies on Friday passed a bill allowing Czech nurses, midwives and other health workers to work in the European Union. The bill, which has to be approved by the Senate and signed by the president, also allows for health workers from other EU states to work in the Czech Republic.
The Czech prime minister, Vladimir Spidla, is in Brussels for a summit to decide the shape of the European Union's first constitution. Among the issues to be discussed are voting powers, the number of commissioners and national vetoes on foreign, defence and taxation policy. The Czech Republic is one of ten, mostly ex-communist countries set to join the EU next May, in what will be the biggest enlargement in the Union's history.
President Vaclav Klaus granted five presidential pardons on Wednesday, the first time he has done so since he first took office in March. President Klaus's spokesman said they were cases where suspended prison sentences had been imposed or applicants were suffering serious health conditions, or a combination of both. He would not specify any other details on Thursday. The Presidential Office says it has received some 900 pardon applications since March. Mr Klaus' predecessor Vaclav Havel was often criticised for dispensing controversial pardons. Mr Havel's office made public detailed information on every pardon dispensed. Mr Klaus said shortly after his election in late February that he would only grant pardons in exceptional cases.
The Czech Confederation of Trade Unions (CMKOS) has called onto the government to stop the privatisation process of the Severoceske Doli coal mining company in North Bohemia. Speaking to journalists on Tuesday, the confederation's President Milan Stech said trade unions opposed the way the government had been conduction the public tender for the privatisation and view the process as damaging to future regional development and stable employment. He added that the country's biggest power utility CEZ should also not have been excluded from the sale. The government's privatisation of coal mines was criticised by the European Commission for similar reasons last month.
Some eighty ethnic Germans who have been living in the country all their lives and were not among those expelled from Czechoslovakia after the Second World War, will be spending three weeks in a spa as symbolic compensation for the repression they faced after the war. According to Alena Einhornova from the Czech-German Fund for the Future, thanks to which the 1.8 million crown spa project will come to being, the ethnic Germans suffered much discrimination despite them being Czech citizens who never had a fascist history.
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