The Czech Republic joined other European countries on Wednesday in a day of mourning for the victims of the tsunami disaster in South Asia. Flags flew at half mast, sirens sounded across the country at noon and Czechs held a three-minute silence to pay respect to the 150,000 dead.
The number of Czechs still unaccounted for has dropped to 16, but there are fears that seven of them have died. Officially only one Czech victim has been confirmed.
Following a Cabinet session on Tuesday the Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda said the government was prepared to earmark up to 200 million crowns (6.7 million euros) towards the restoration of the devastated region. Last week the Czech government pledged 15 million crowns for immediate relief to the tsunami disaster area. Eight million has already been released.
By Wednesday Czechs have raised more than 90 million crowns (3 million euros) in individual donations to public collections called by aid organisations.
Some Czech banks have decided to give up certain service charges on donations to Asia, among them CSOB, Ceska sporitelna, Komercni banka and HVB which manage the accounts of major Czech aid organisations. As a result hundreds of thousands of crowns more will be sent to the affected regions. However, the banks do not plan to cancel fees on charity payments in the future. The Czech government said on Tuesday that the 19-percent VAT deducted from donor SMS messages will also be given to Asia. Mobile phone operators say they will give up their service charge, too.
The Czech Republic posted a foreign trade surplus of 5.2 billion crowns (171 million euros) in November, its first in 10 years for the month, the Czech Statistics Office said Wednesday. The result was driven by record growth in exports of cars and electrical engineering products, the office said. In November 2003, the country had a trade deficit of 8.4 billion crowns. On a 12-month basis, exports in November 2004 were up 33.2 percent and imports rose 20.4 percent calculated on current prices. Over the first 11 months of 2004 exports grew by 24.2 percent and imports by 20.5 percent.
A Czech mountaineer has died in the Slovak High Tatra Mountains after being hit by an avalanche. According to the Slovak Mountain Rescue Service, the 38-year old tourist from South Moravia became the first victim of the Tatra Mountains this year. Last year the first alpinists killed in the mountains came from the Czech Republic, too. They were buried under an avalanche on January 18, 2004.
Meanwhile following heavy snowfalls, mountain rescuers in the Krkonose Mountains in East Bohemia and in the Jeseniky in North Moravia have announced a 3rd-degree avalanche alert. On leeward slopes, the layers of fresh snow can be up to five metres thick and can easily break off and slide. Tourists are recommended to avoid the danger zones.
Czech footballer Jiri Jarosik has joined the English club Chelsea from CSKA Moscow. The 27-year-old midfielder joins another Czech, goalkeeper Petr Cech, at Chelsea. Jarosik has signed a six-month loan deal but may sign a full contract with the club in the summer.
The Czech Under 20 ice hockey team have come third in the junior World Championships in Grand Forks, USA, after beating the USA 3:2 on Tuesday. The game was decided in overtime by a goal from Czech captain Petr Vrana.
In the coming days we can expect a partly cloudy weather with daytime temperatures reaching highs of 8 degrees Celsius in Bohemia and 11 degrees in Moravia.
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