Labour and Social Affair Minister Zdenek Skromach suggested that a government-sponsored bill on property declarations is so important that the government may link it with a confidence vote in Parliament. The bill, aimed at fighting tax evasions and money laundering, has caused controversy within the ruling coalition. Some ministers for the senior government Social Democrats have been trying to make the law retroactive, which is unacceptable for the other two parties. The opposition Communist Party had previously indicated it was willing to support a stricter version of the law. However, the Freedom Union said that if the legislation were pushed through with the help of the Communists, it would mean an end of the ruling coalition.
Three Czech journalists who were kidnapped and held hostage in Iraq last week have returned to Prague early on Sunday. Czech Television reporter Michal Kubal, cameraman Petr Klima and Czech Radio reporter Vit Pohanka flew home on board a special Defence Ministry aircraft that had been sent to retrieve them from Iraq. The journalists had been held hostage since last Sunday at an unknown location in Iraq after being captured on their way from Baghdad to Jordan, and were released on Friday.
Czech politicians have congratulated Ivan Gasparovic on his election to the post of Slovak president. Mr. Gasparovic beat controversial former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar. Gasparovic, who once was one of Meciar's closest allies, received 60 percent of the vote. The Czech Lower House speaker Lubomir Zaoralek said Slovaks decided for a better political image of their country while Czech opposition leader Mirek Topolanek sees the Slovak election result as a choice of a lesser evil. Gasparovic, 63, a lawyer by profession, will become the third Slovak president when he replaces Rudolf Schuster in about two months' time.
Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda underwent a neck operation on
Saturday at the Brno Hospital after two days of monitoring and
treatment. Mr. Svoboda sustained injuries in a car accident on
Thursday. Doctors said Mr. Svoboda was recovering well from the
injuries and will most likely stay in the hospital for one or two
weeks. That means that Svoboda will probably not be able to participate
in a key vote on a VAT bill in the Lower House.
Meanwhile, police have ruled out alcohol as a factor in the accident, which took place when the driver lost control of the minister's vehicle in a difficult turn. All three in the car were injured, but none of the injuries - including the foreign minister's - were life-threatening.
The ruling Social Democrats have been seeking support from the opposition
Communist Party for its bill on VAT that President Vaclav Klaus vetoed
recently. The government needs 101 votes in the lower house to override
the presidential veto but lacks two MPs because of their health condition.
The junior opposition Communist Party reiterated on Saturday that none of
the party's deputies will vote for the bill in question. Finance Minister
Bohumil Sobotka hopes to persuade the Communists to change their minds and
invited party leaders for talks next week.
The VAT bill would lower the basic VAT level from 22 to 19 percent and move a number of items from the preferential five-percent rate to the upper bracket. Failure to pass the bill would seriously complicate Czech trade with fellow EU countries after May 1.
Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda, who suffered a neck injury in a car accident late Thursday evening in Vyskov, south Moravia, has been transferred from the hospital in Vyskov to a hospital in Brno. The foreign minister will spend several days there undergoing monitoring and treatment. Meanwhile, police have ruled out alcohol as a factor in the accident, which took place when the driver lost control of the minister's vehicle in a difficult turn. All three the car were injured, but none of the injuries - including the foreign minister's - were life-threatening.
In an interview for Czech TV also on Friday afternoon Michal Kubal also spoke about the events leading up to his and his colleagues' abduction, speculating that their hired Iraqi driver had either made a mistake or had purposely driven the journalists into assailant hands - Mr Kubal said the driver chose a known and dangerous route the journalists had asked him to avoid. At a rebel check-point several dozen kilometres out of Baghdad the vehicle was stopped by rebels, and the journalists were taken out of the car, their hands bound and eyes blind-folded. Mr Kubal then said it was difficult to determine exactly which group had conducted the abduction. Friday afternoon, after several days of promises by their abductors, the three Czech journalists were driven to a Baghdad suburb and released. They then took a taxi to the Czech embassy.
A new survey released by the CVVM agency has revealed that had elections to European Parliament been held in March some 61 percent of Czechs would have gone to the polls. However, the agency was quick to add that actual participation in elections usually falls short of the numbers polled, saying actual turn-out might number 40 percent.
President Vaclav Klaus, on an eleven-day state visit to China, has met with Hong Kong's Chief Executive Tung Chee Hwa. The two discussed political and economic ties, with the Czech president saying Hong Kong could serve as an illustration for China's development in the future, stressing it was important to establish contacts with political and business representatives. Mr Klaus is also quoted as saying Chief Executive Tung Chee Hwa had praised the Czech Republic as the only EU accession country to have established a business representative office in Hong Kong.
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