The Czech government has begun preparing for the country's presidency of the European Union in the first half of 2009. Members of the government committee for EU matters, led by Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, on Wednesday discussed the future priorities of the country's EU presidency, laying emphasis on the freedom of movement of people, services, capital and goods. Deputy Prime Minister for European Affairs Alexander Vondra said the motto of the Czech EU presidency could be "Europe without barriers".
The United States Senate has opened a debate on whether to drop a visa requirement for visitors from the Czech Republic, Hospodarske noviny reported. A previous US insistence that a country not have more than three percent visa rejections has been replaced by other security demands, such as bio-metric passports, the paper said. A representative of the Czech Embassy in Washington, Jaroslav Kurfurst, said that while the Czech Republic had not yet won the war, a significant battle had been won on the road to visa free travel to the US.
Miroslav Grebenicek, the former head of the Communist Party, does not need to apologize to anti-communist activist Jan Sinagl for having called him a primitive, the Olomouc High Court ruled on Wednesday. The court overturned an earlier ruling by the regional court which ordered Mr. Grebenicek to apologize in two nationwide papers.
President Klaus has announced he will run for a second term in office in the 2008 presidential elections. After exactly four years in office, Mr. Klaus enjoys a high rate of public support and political analysts say his chances of getting reelected are considerable. In the Czech Republic the president is elected by both houses of Parliament.
Swedish television has broadcast an interview with former Czech foreign
minister Jan Kavan, in which he seems to indicate he could use his
influence to slow down a possible investigation into alleged bribery
linked to a large military contract. The Swedish reporters, posing as arms
traders, recorded the interview secretly. Mr Kavan has denied saying he
could influence the Czech police; he told Czech Television that last month
he had filed charges against the reporters for asking him to do so.
Police in the Czech Republic, Sweden and Britain are investigating whether bribery took place in connection with the Czech Republic's planned purchase and subsequent lease of Gripen fighter jets from Sweden's Saab and Britain's BAE Systems. The Social Democratic Party of which Mr. Kavan is a member, has urged him to contact the police and give them whatever information he has pertaining to the case. The Czech Defense Ministry has said it may commission its inspection team to look into the matter as well.
One of the country's four leading banks Komercni Banka has announced a 2.3 percent rise in 2006 net group profits to 9.12 billion crowns (424.7 million dollars). A spokesman for the bank said the group performance was supported by the rapid growth of the Czech economy. French-based Societe Generale has a 60.35 percent stake in the bank. A dividend payment of 5.7 billion crowns, or 150 crowns per share, will be recommended.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Local Development Jiri Cunek who is suspected of corruption has said he will not resign from his government posts despite the fact that the state attorney on Wednesday rejected his complaint against the accusation, opening the way for prosecution. Mr. Cunek is suspected of having taken a half a million crown bribe when he was mayor of Vsetin in 2002 and has failed to give a satisfactory explanation as to where he got the money. Although the prime minister has not asked Mr. Cunek to resign, several cabinet ministers have indicated that he should do so.
Tests have revealed that nine professional soldiers at the Caslav Airbase - home base of the country's Gripen fighter jets - use drugs. The Defense Ministry ordered that all soldiers at the base be tested following the arrest of two soldiers in January on suspicion of drug dealing. Defense Minister Vlasta Parkanova has said she is considering introducing obligatory blood tests for all applicants who want to join the military and random tests for those in service.
Austrian media have welcomed the outcome of talks between Chancellor Alfred Grusenbauer and his Czech counterpart Mirek Toplanek with regard to the drawn-out controversy over the Temelin nuclear power plant in south Bohemia. Kronen Zeitung, the most popular Austrian daily, writes that the decision to set up a joint parliamentary commission to assess the plant's safety is the first real sign of progress in years. However Austrian opponents of the plant have dismissed the talks and effected three more border blockades on Wednesday, demanding that the plant be closed down.
Regulated rents in Prague are to rise at the maximum permitted level over the next three years, with the first increase due in June. After that rent hikes will be levied according to location, a Civic Democrat member of Prague's municipal authority, Jiri Janecek, told reporters after a meeting on Tuesday. Mr Janecek said they did not expect any serious social impact, and definitely not in the first year. Rents in the Czech Republic should be completely deregulated by the end of 2010.
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