European Union leaders are attending a summit on Thursday and Friday in Brussels to discuss the fate of the EU constitution and try to reach an agreement on the Union's contested budget for 2007-2013. Before the meeting, Czech Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek, for whom this is the first official visit to Brussels as prime minister, met with NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso to reassure them of the continuity of the Czech Republic's position in NATO and the EU.
Mr Paroubek also appealed that the ratification process of the European Union constitution continue but that the period be extended beyond 2006 to give the countries more time for reflection. With regards to the European budget, the Czech prime minister says he aims to achieve the best terms for the Czech Republic.
Telefonica's acquisition of the majority stake in the Czech Republic's biggest fixed line operator, Cesky Telecom, is final. The Spanish telecommunications company won the privatisation tender with the highest bid - 82.6 billion crowns (a little over 3.5 billion US dollars). On Wednesday, it paid the National Property Fund a remaining 90 percent of the purchase price and is now the owner of the state's 51.1 percent stake in Cesky Telecom, which also owns the country's leading mobile operator Eurotel.
The Czech government has agreed to release an extra 634 million crowns (around 28 million US dollars) out of next year's state budget to help the Justice Ministry cover a wage increase for judges and state attorneys. From the beginning of this year, their salaries have increased by 18 percent with their average monthly wage at 50,400 crowns (around 2,200 US dollars) for judges and 45,400 crowns (around 2,000 US dollars) for state attorneys. Some 2,963 judges and 1,113 state attorneys are paid by the ministry.
The Senate has approved a law allowing the issuing of more than 72 billion crowns, (the equivalent of over 3 billion U.S. dollars), in bonds to help cover this year's state budget deficit. Bonds are likely to be issued on both domestic and foreign markets, while the remainder of the deficit, some 11 billion crowns, is to be covered by long-term loans from the European Investment Bank. The law has yet to be signed by the president to come into effect.
Bohumil Kulinsky, the director of the prestigious Bambini di Praga girls choir, accused of sexually abusing underage girls is to stay in police custody for at least another three months. According to the State Attorney handling his case, Mr Kulinsky cannot be released as the chances that he would try and influence witnesses are high. The prestigious Bambini di Praga girls choir, made up of girls aged 12 to 19, performs nationally and internationally with leading Czech and foreign orchestras. Since Mr Kulinsky's arrest last year in November, over one hundred former choir members have come forward with accusations of sexual abuse.
The Czech Ambassador to London, Stefan Fule, will be the next Ambassador to NATO. Mr Fule will be succeeding Karel Kovanda who has been appointed the European Commission's Deputy Director General of External Relations.
The next few days are expected to remain cloudy and rainy on Thursday and Friday with day-time temperatures rising steadily to reach a maximum of 31 degrees Celsius by the weekend.
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