Behind the scenes negotiations continue to try to secure the release of three Czech journalists who were abducted by rebel insurgents in Iraq on Sunday. According to Iraqi minister Mufid Jazairi, the abduction of the three Czechs was a politically motivated action. Minister Jazairi, who is trying to negotiate their release, said his sources had assured him that the journalists had not been harmed. Although the Iraqi official was fairly optimistic on Tuesday predicting an early release, on Wednesday he admitted that the situation was very sensitive and was complicated by the taking of further hostages -French and German nationals -in the past 24 hours. Iraqi rebel groups are now holding around 40 foreign hostages in an attempt to destabilize the US-led coalition.
In view of recent developments, the Czech Foreign Ministry has advised Czech citizens to leave Iraq. Those who cannot leave the country have been advised to exercise extreme caution, to stay in their hotels and avoid travelling, as far as possible. The Czech humanitarian organisation, People in Need, has begun pulling its workers out of Iraq.
Czech President Vaclav Klaus has recalled Marie Souckova from the post of Health Minister and has appointed Social Democrat Jozef Kubinyi in her place. Mr Kubinyi will be taking up the post on April 15. During the appointment ceremony at Prague Castle on Wednesday, President Klaus described the health ministry as an ailing institution, which has seen the highest number of ministers come and go, and whose state of health is even worse than that of the health sector it is supposed to reform.
The Cabinet has approved an amendment to the energy law, setting a framework for the liberalization of the gas and electricity markets. The first stage of liberalization of the gas market is to come in January next year and should concern large buyers. The gas market should be fully liberalized by the end of 2006. The electricity market has already gone through three stages of liberalization, with full liberalization also scheduled for 2006. The law aims at raising competition on the energy market and should strengthen the position of consumers by enabling them to pick a supplier.
The Cabinet on Wednesday also approved a bill on mandatory alcohol stamping, which is part of a broader effort to fight corruption and the "grey economy". The bill should help prevent tax evasion and generate more funds for the state budget. If approved by parliament the law would come into effect as of January 1st, 2005.
The Prague High Court has confirmed an eight year sentence for former foreign ministry official Karel Srba, found guilty of plotting to murder a journalist. Mr Srba was found guilty of planning to kill Sabina Slonkova, a top investigative reporter for the daily Mlada Fronta Dnes. The man hired to do the murder went to the police before the plan could be carried out.
Thursday is expected to be sunny with day temperatures between 15 and 19 degrees Celsius.
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