The outgoing government on Wednesday failed to reach agreement on next year's state budget. The finance ministry proposed a deficit of 94 billion crowns but the demands made by individual ministries were 14 billion crowns higher. Finance Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said his proposal met with strong protests from all sides but he argued that a deficit 94 billion was the absolute limit. The ceiling is not set by the finance ministry - it is the result of a coalition agreement, Sobotka told the CTK press agency. The Cabinet is to meet again next week to try to reach agreement on the 2005 budget. Although the Czech Republic may have a new government by September, the three party coalition agreement on next year's budget deficit should remain valid.
President Klaus has criticized the Czech health minister Josef Kubinyi for banning the use of caged beds in all health institutions in the Czech Republic without consulting doctors and experts on the matter. Minister Kubinyi issued the order following criticism in the British media and a protest letter from J.K. Rowling, author of the famous Harry Potter books. President Klaus, who has invited medical experts to Prague Castle to inform him about the situation, said that the issue was not something that "could be solved out of context, by a populist gesture". Mr. Kubinyi was called on to explain his decision on Wednesday morning and he assured the head of state that he had not meant to ignore or dismiss the views of Czech specialists in the field. Many Czech psychiatrists maintain that caged or netter beds are less cruel and traumatising to a patient that forced application of drugs or being strapped to a bed.
The Czech health ministry has ordered all health institutions in the country to stop using caged beds immediately. The Czech Republic was severely criticized for the practice by human rights organizations and the campaign to get these beds banned was recently joined by J.K. Rowling, author of the famous Harry Potter books. The health ministry said that beds with iron railings should go immediately, those with netting should be replaced by the end of the year.
A fake explosive devise found on a train travelling from the Czech Republic to Germany on Tuesday resulted in a three hour delay. The train was stopped at Rokycany train station and was completely evacuated along with the residents of ten nearby houses as bomb disposal experts went to work. They allegedly found a good imitation of an explosive device. Police are investigating the incident.
The new Czech government could seek a vote of confidence from the Lower House in mid-August, according to the acting head of the Social Democratic party Stanislav Gross. Mr. Gross met with the leaders of the other two parties of the emerging government coalition on Tuesday to discuss the situation within three parties, their respective views on personnel and policy programme matters and a timeframe for the formation of the new government. Mr. Gross has said he expects all deputies of the three parties to sign a commitment in writing pledging support for the new government, which would have a slim one-vote majority in Parliament. Some deputies have said that they want to know more about the future government's policy programme and who will be in the Cabinet before making such a commitment.
Customs officials in Ceske Budejovice have confiscated two million crowns worth of smuggled cigarettes. The smuggled goods were found after officials searched a lorry that was supposed to be carrying fibreglass insulation. The cigarettes were probably meant for the illegal market in the south Bohemia border areas. The state would have lost one million crowns in taxes through their sale and the perpetrators now face up to eight years in prison.
The Czech Republic will send a military team of chemical warfare specialists, technology and support staff to Greece for the Olympic Games. Some 100 Czech soldiers are expected in Greece at the end of July to help in the security operation surrounding the games. The Czech Republic has one of the best chemical warfare detection units in the world.
The chief rabbi of the Czech Republic Karol Sidon was hospitalized with heart problems as he was about to face a tribunal after being dismissed from his Prague post. Sidon was sacked at the end of June by the Prague Jewish community, who claimed he was unable to handle his duties. When Sidon denied the claims, the community suggested a court rule on the dispute. A hospital spokesman said rabbi Sidon's condition was stable and predicted that it would not be a long hospitalization.
Consumer prices in the Czech Republic in June showed the highest year-on-year growth in more than two years, rising by 2.9 percent compared with June 2003, according to official figures released on Monday. The price of goods and services was up in most sectors, largely influenced by a rise in value added taxes earlier this year from five to 19 percent. Cigarette and alcohol prices rose particularly in June. For the first few months after January's VAT hike retailers had been selling old stock at the same price as before but a 7.5 percent rise on new stock kicked in last month. The overall rise in prices, the highest since April 2002, was slightly below analysts' forecasts of three percent. Compared to May, consumer prices rose by 0.2 percent in June, also slightly below predictions of 0.3 percent.
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