The planned stationing of a US radar base in the Czech Republic and the
abolition of U.S. visas for Czechs will be the main topics of Foreign
Minister Karel Schwarzenberg's upcoming visit to the United States.
Foreign Minster Schwarzenberg leaves for the US on Wednesday for four
days of talks with US top officials. The Czech Republic recently
complied with a US request to start talks on the possible stationing of
a radar base on its territory. The base would be part of a US missile
defense shield stationed jointly in the Czech Republic and Poland. No
commitment has as yet been made and the talks are expected to last
until the end of the year. The Czech political scene is divided on the
issue and opinion polls suggest that the public is against it.
Critics say the US missile defense shield will not meet Europe's defense needs and Russia views the US missile base as a threat to its security. Washington has promised Moscow "detailed discussions" about the plan.
The Czech Republic has made the most progress in reducing drink-driving
deaths in Europe but the number of victims has risen in other
countries, including Britain, according to a report published by the
Brussels-based European Transport Safety Council. Deaths from
alcohol-related accidents in the Czech Republic fell 11 percent faster
than other road deaths between 1996 and 2005, followed by Germany and
Poland with falls of about 6 and 5 percent, respectively, the report
said. Keys to bringing down the death rate were the blood-alcohol
limits for legal driving, which vary from country to country, as well
as testing of drivers by police, which remains patchy in many EU
Drink-driving and speeding is still the most frequent cause of road accidents in the Czech Republic but the traffic police regularly test drivers within big road safety operations. Last year the Czech Republic introduced a strict new road legislation with tough penalties for both speeding and drink-driving.
Germany is not opposed to the idea of Czechs having visa-free relations with the United States, the German Minister for Europe Guenter Gloser said in Prague on Tuesday after talks with the Czech Deputy Prime Minister for European Affairs Alexander Vondra. Mr. Gloser was at pains to clear up a misunderstanding between the two countries after the Czech daily Mlada Fronta Dnes wrote that the German ambassador to Washington Klaus Scharioth had sought to complicate the Czech Republic's efforts to be included in the US visa waiver programme. This was allegedly a misunderstanding that arose after Germany, as the EU president, sent Washington a letter on behalf of all the EU newcomers stating their reservations with regard to the US visa legislation and forgot to include the Czech Republic. The Czech Foreign Ministry officially protested against this but the mistake was later clarified.
A defense ministry official has been demoted after reporting dubious transactions at the ministry, according to the internet site Novinky. When the police raided the defense ministry several weeks ago on suspicion of extensive fraud, the head of military construction Robert Bochnicek was reportedly the only high placed ministry employee who spoke openly about dubious transactions, proffered bribes and undercover deals at the ministry. He was demoted shortly after, on the grounds of an old transgression - for using a defense ministry car for other than work purposes. Bochnicek says he paid a 17 thousand crown fine at the time and considered the matter closed. He is now considering filing a lawsuit against the ministry.
Workers at the Skoda Auto car plant in Mlada Boleslav have gone on strike
in demand of higher pay. Thousands of employees downed tools for two and a
half hours during the first shift of the day, with later shifts planning to
do likewise. The strike means no cars will be produced at the factory on
Tuesday; the company says it expects to lose 55 million crowns (over 2.5
million USD). On Friday Skoda Auto management withdrew an offer of a
13-percent pay rise for employees, and returned to an earlier proposal to
increase wages by 7.5 percent.
Figures released on Monday showed that March was the most successful month in the history of the company. Last month Skoda Auto recorded over 60,000 vehicles sold, which represented a year-on-year rise of almost 15 percent. Over half of sales in the first quarter of this year were in western Europe.
The Czech state-controlled airline CSA carried 1.06 million passengers during the first three months of the year, 5.9 percent more than during the same period in 2006, the airline announced on Tuesday. Last year, CSA carried 5.5 million passengers, a 4.7-percent increase on 2005. The cash-strapped airline hopes to return to profit in 2008 following a major restructuring programme launched in 2006 which includes the shedding of non-core activities.
President Vaclav Klaus now has a tolerant attitude to the office of ombudsman, Ombudsman Otakar Motejl told reporters after presenting him with an annual report on Monday. Mr Klaus was originally opposed to the creation of the institution. Mr Motejl said the president was pragmatic, and had been persuaded of the significance of the ombudsman's office. It dealt with 6,400 complaints last year, and found public offices to be at fault in 400 cases. The institution came into existence in 2001; Otakar Motejl is the only person to have occupied the post to date.
The Czech European commissioner, Vladimir Spidla, has presented an EU anti-discrimination award to Italian journalist Fabrizio Gatti, who infiltrated the world of exploited workers for a piece published in the magazine L'Espresso. Mr Spidla, who is EU commissioner for labour and social affairs, said increasing awareness of such issues was hugely important.
However, the company is currently experiencing problems: trade unions at its plant in Mlada Boleslav are planning to go on strike on Tuesday, when work will cease for two and a half hours during three shifts. On Friday Skoda Auto management withdrew an offer of a 13-percent pay rise for employees, and returned to an earlier proposal to increase wages by 7.5 percent. Talks between the two sides are set to continue.
Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek has said he is less opposed than he was to a controversial new National Library building to be built on Prague's Letna Plain. Speaking on a visit to the Library's Clementinum building in Prague's Old Town, Mr Topolanek said he would probably get used to the green blob-like building, which has been designed by London-based Czech architect Jan Kaplicky.
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