Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek is expected to sign a visa-waiver memorandum during his visit to the United States next week. The memorandum between the Czech government and the US Department of Homeland Security is likely to result in the abolition of tourist visas for Czech citizens before the end of 2008. The European Union has criticized the Czech Republic for bilateral negotiations with the United States over the visa-waiver programme.
A group of opposition Social Democrat MPs submitted a draft bill to the Czech Parliament on Thursday which should improve the policies adopted by large chain stores towards their suppliers. If passed, the bill will introduce a duty for large chain stores with annual turnovers over five billion crowns, or almost 300 million US dollars, to introduce codes of ethics to follow when negotiating with their suppliers. The suppliers have complained that large supermarket chains push the prices down too much and they require additional fees for placing particular products at the best parts of shelves. While chain stores have rejected the proposal, the sales of ten largest supermarket chains in the Czech Republic rose by 31.3 billion crowns, or more than 1.8 billion US dollars in 2007.
The Czech government will deal with the issue of recognizing Kosovo “when the time is right”, Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg said on Thursday. The Czech Republic is aiming to maintain good relations with Serbia; in the European Union, the Czech Republic has made several positive steps towards Belgrade and it does not want to reverse its policies. Serbia is one of eight countries in transition which the Czech Republic has been assisting. The Czech Foreign Minister said that whether or not the Czechs recognize Kosovo will have no impact on the situation in the former Serbian province. Mr Schwarzenberg had already announced that the Czech Republic would recognize Kosovo after a majority of EU countries do so.
The Czech government is likely to continue talks with Austrian arms produces Steyr over the supply of APCs for the Czech Army, Czech Deputy Defence Minister Karel Barták said on Thursday. Mr Barták said that Steyr is not against additional tests of the armoured personnel carriers. The Czech Government signed a 20 billion crown (1.1 billion US dollar) contract with the Austrian manufacturer to buy 199 APCs in 2006; the Czechs cancelled the contract last year due to the failure of the Austrian arms producer to meet the conditions of the contract.
Zdeněk Zelenka, a former nurse in a hospital in eastern Bohemia, was sentenced to life imprisonment on Thursday for a series of murders he committed by administering lethal doses of the blood-thinning drug heparin to his patients. A court in Hradec Králové said Mr Zelenka committed seven murders and attempted another ten between May and October 2006. The former nurse said he gave his patients the drug to “see some action”. Experts confirmed that Mr Zelenka is sane and fully responsible for his deeds. In the Czech Republic, 33 prisoners are currently serving life sentences.
Telefónica O2, the largest domestic telecommunications company, announced on Thursday that its consolidated net profit for 2007 reached 10.4 billion crowns, or more than 613 million US dollars. This represents almost a 30 percent year-on-year increase. The company’s sales rose to 63 billion crowns last year, or more than 3.7 billion US dollars. Despite a steady drain of landline customers, the company was able to stop decrease in revenues last year due to the rising number of high-speed internet connections.
The Supreme Administrative Court rejected on Thursday a complaint by Plzeň City Hall concerning a banned neo-Nazi march that was planned for January. The authorities in Plzeň, western Bohemia, had banned the march that was allegedly organized in protest of restrictions of freedom of speech. The organizers, with links to Czech neo-Nazi movement, contested the ban at a court which said Plzeň City Hall did not have the right to ban it. The City Hall then complained about the verdict at the Supreme Administrative Court which has confirmed the ruling. The neo-Nazis are now planning to march in Plzeň on March 1.
French authorities returned 15 paintings to the Czech Republic on Thursday which had been confiscated last year from two Czech smugglers at the French-German border. The contraband included works by Czech modernists František Kupka, Toyen and Jindřich Štýrský. The smugglers, who are now held in custody in Prague, have not been able to explain the origin of the works of art.
Czech troops, part of the KFOR peacekeeping force deployed in Kosovo, reinforced local police units at a border crossing between Serbia and Kosovo on Thursday. Several hundred Serbian veterans gathered at the Gate 3 border crossing near the community of Merdare to protest Kosovo’s declaration of independence; they threw stones and set old tyres on fire. The commander of the Czech KFOR contingent Jiří David said that the situation calmed down eventually. About 60 Czech troops bolstered the local police during the incident.
The Czech crown was trading at 16.99 crown to the US dollar on Thursday afternoon, breaking the 17-crown mark for the first time in history. Analysts believe the record gain of the Czech crown against the US dollar has been caused by the weakening US currency following the pessimistic outlook on the state of the American economy published on Wednesday by the US Federal Bank. At the end of Thursday’s trading, the US dollar strengthened to 17.02 crowns against the dollar.
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