President Vaclav Havel has thanked the European Union's commissioner for enlargement Guenter Verheugen for the financial aid the EU has provided to the flood-hit Czech Republic. After meeting President Havel at Prague Castle on Thursday, Mr Verheugen told journalists the European Union had offered the Czech Republic 58 million euro from the funds aimed at supporting candidate countries. The European Investment Bank has offered the country a loan of up to 200 million euro. According to first estimates the Czech Republic has suffered damage worth up to 3 billion euro.
The German Environment Ministry has announced experts found no dangerous chemicals in the river Elbe which flows to Germany from the Czech Republic. Authorities in the republic of Saxony which was worst affected by the recent floods were afraid toxic chemicals could have leaked from flooded chemical plants in the Czech Republic, namely the Spolana plant north of Prague. Although the concentration of heavy metals and organic waste has increased in the river, the levels don't exceed Germany's safety norms.
Later on Thursday Guenter Verheugen also met the Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda for talks on the Czech Republic's preparations for EU accession proposed for 2004. Stating the current EU's financial assistance as an example, Mr Svoboda said the Czech Republic would benefit from its membership in the Union. He also said the aid would have been bigger if the country were already a member. The European Union intends to establish a fund aimed at helping member states to overcome natural disasters. By the end of this year 500 million euro will be available in the fund for the flooded countries of Austria and Germany but also for the Czech Republic.
Greenpeace has included Spolana in its "Company Crimes" report presented at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg. Greenpeace has expressed grave concern over the activities of Spolana, saying that the plant's management has withheld information on matters that posed a serious threat to the public. Greenpeace has repeatedly highlighted the danger of poisonous dioxins and an estimated 25,000 kilograms of poisonous mercury which are stored at Spolana.
The Czech Republic has come halfway down Transparency International's annual corruption perceptions index. The country came joint 52nd with Slovakia and Latvia, out of a total of 102 countries surveyed. Other post-Communist countries - including Poland and Hungary - were judged to be less corrupt, and came higher up the list. In first place was Finland, while Bangladesh and Nigeria came joint last.
Officials at the Spolana chemical plant north of Prague say they have pumped out around six of the twelve to fourteen tonnes of chlorine from a partially submerged storage tank. They said specialists were converting the chlorine into a harmless chemical. Fire crews and buses are on standby to evacuate residents in the event of an emergency. Leaks of both liquid chlorine and chlorine gas from Spolana over the last ten days have alarmed the authorities and local residents. On Monday the government intervened after a second leak of chlorine into the air, and Spolana's director was sacked. No one was hurt in the leak, but crops in surrounding fields and gardens were burnt.
Prague's 14th-century Charles Bridge reopened to the public on Wednesday, two weeks after it was closed and nearly submerged in heavy floods. There were concerns the bridge would be seriously damaged by the swollen River Vltava, but the famous monument appears to have emerged intact. The bridge was badly damaged in 1890, when several columns were swept away by the swollen river. Charles Bridge is one of Prague's most popular tourist attractions.
The General Director of the Spolana chemical factory, Radomir Vek, has been
sacked following two serious leaks of toxic chlorine gas and liquid chlorine
at the flood-damaged plant, just 25 km north of Prague. The plant's board
has decided to replace Mr Vek with the General Director of Chemopetrol,
Miroslav Kuliha, as of Tuesday. A third degree chemical alert was called in
the north Bohemian town of Neratovice and several nearby villages on Friday
following an accident at Spolana in which several hundred kilograms of
poisonous chlorine gas were released into the air. A Spolana representative
later admitted to other flood related problems, saying that close to 80 tons
of chlorine had leaked into the river Elbe when the plant was flooded.
Meanwhile, at the plant itself, Spolana's emergency committee decided on Monday to begin pumping out the remaining 12 -14 tons of chlorine, to be converted into non-toxic sodium chlorate. Since a further leak of the chlorine gas into the air cannot be ruled out, rescuers have been put on alert and evacuation buses are ready to transport residents to a secure area.
Czech police said on Monday they had recovered the body of another victim of floods that ravaged much of the country, bringing the death toll to 16. A police spokeswoman said the body of a 46-year-old man was found late on Sunday near the town of Litvinov, about 80 km north of Prague, adding that the victim probably died about 12 days earlier. Torrential rain in much of central Europe swelled rivers in the Czech Republic to record levels almost two weeks ago, forcing the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people. Many of those evacuated remain barred from returning to their homes as numerous buildings suffer structural damage. Czech government officials have estimated the cost of repairing the damage to run between 2 to 3 billion U.S. dollars.
While many parts of the Czech Republic experienced sunshine on Friday, weather forecasters have warned that some regions which have been flooded could be hit again; warm weather brings storms and those rains could raise river levels. The ground in flood hit areas is still water-logged and could not absorb any more water, experts from the Czech Meteorological Institute said on Friday.
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