Meanwhile, around 70 Iraqis based in the Czech Republic voted in Iraq's elections in Berlin on Saturday. The Czech NGO People in Need ferried two busloads of Iraqi exiles to polling stations in the German capital. Around 300 Iraqis live in the Czech Republic, and the Foreign Ministry said some of them were likely to have made their own way to Berlin.
Mr Gross's party, the Social Democrats, have agreed what they call an
"action plan" to try to win voter support. At a conference in Prague,
delegates voted to cut taxes for people on middle and low incomes,
though the details have not yet been worked out. The party will
maintain its policies of free third level education and health care.
The Social Democrats also presented a new programme called "English for All" to try and improve Czechs' skills in the language. Stanislav Gross, who himself does not speak English, said the plan envisaged higher pay for English teachers.
The party now has to present its policy proposals to the other two parties in the governing coalition.
Czech military police may stay in Iraq longer than previously expected, the foreign minister, Cyril Svoboda, said on Sunday. The Czech parliament recently voted to extend the mission of the unit until the end of this year. But Mr Svoboda said they would remain in the country as long as the Iraqi government considered their presence "useful and beneficial". Around 100 Czech soldiers are training local police officers in the south of the country.
The prime minister, Stanislav Gross, says he plans to sue the newspaper Mlada fronta Dnes for its reporting of his personal finances; the daily said Mr Gross had not officially earned enough to cover the cost of his luxury flat in Prague. The prime minister on Saturday presented tax documents which he said proved he had earned more than the price of the property. But he refused to discuss a loan he says he took from his uncle, who says he borrowed the money from other relatives outside the Czech Republic.
Four people including a Briton and a German have been detained in Hradec Kralove on suspicion of distributing child pornography via the internet. The Briton and one Czech citizen have been remanded in custody, said a Czech prosecutor. She said British and German police had helped in detecting the group, which she described as highly dangerous.
Both the Czech and Slovak authorities have denied reports by the Russian newspaper Novaja Gazeta that a ransom was paid for the release in November of Miriam Jevikova, a Slovak woman who was kidnapped five months earlier while working for a Czech aid agency in Ingushetia. The internet site of the Russian paper said 4.5 million crowns (almost 200,000 US dollars) had been handed over to Ms Jevikova's kidnappers.
The chairman of the Social Democrats, Stanislav Gross, has urged the party to abandon their utopian and populist attitude to the "social state". He told 500 delegates at a conference in Prague the Social Democrats should join the mainstream of European social democracy and not stick dogmatically to what he called "old visions". Meanwhile, members of the party close to the labour minister, Zdenek Skromach, are in favour of maintaining the Social Democrats' traditional socialist values. Mr Skromach will face Mr Gross in a vote for the party leadership in March.
Rent on rent-regulated apartments will rise by a maximum of eight percent a year for the next five or six years, according to the local development minister, Jiri Paroubek. The increases will affect one fifth of flats in the Czech Republic; like free-market rents they will vary in different parts of the country. Mr Paroubek said deregulating rents in one go was impossible because it would threaten social cohesion.
The Czech Republic is likely to have the lowest turnout of any European
Union state holding a referendum on the EU constitution, according to
research by the Eurobarometer polling agency. Only 19 percent of Czechs
surveyed said they would vote. While a quarter of Czechs said they had
never heard of the EU constitution, the number who had was - at 67 percent
- higher than the average in the nine states due to hold referendums.
Prime Minister Stanislav Gross wants to hold the vote on the same day as the next general elections in 2006. But the opposition Civic Democrats are threatening to try to block the referendum if it is not held by the end of this year.
The manager of Arsenal football club, Arsene Wenger, said he tried and failed to sign Czech international goalkeeper Petr Cech before he joined Chelsea last year. Wenger said Arsenal wanted to sign the player from French club Rennes, but could not get a work permit for him. Cech, who is 22, has been a huge success since joining Chelsea, conceding just eight goals in 24 league games this season.
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