Czech farmers have taken to the streets to protest against the state of Czech agriculture,
and the Czech intelligence service has launched an investigation into serious corruption allegations,
Farmers throughout the Czech Republic are staging protests today to draw attention to what they describe as the critical state of Czech agriculture. They decided to go ahead with the protests despite a decision by the government to satisfy one of their main grievances by cancelling preferential rates for pork imported from the European Union. The EU has been one of the main targets of the farmers' protests, and they complain that they cannot compete with heavily subsidised EU produce. The EU itself has reacted calmly to the government's decision, and has said that it plans no counter-measures. But at the same time EU officials said they were disappointed that the government had not waited until a second round of consultations.
The Czech capital has a new mayor, the architect and Civic Democratic Party member, Jan Kasl. He was chosen by a clear majority of 31 of the 55 Prague city councillors after the Civic Democrats and Social Democrats reached a grand coalition deal to control the city hall yesterday morning. The agreement also carves out between the two parties the four posts of deputy mayor, sidelining all the remaining parties represented on the council.
Mr Kasl replaces the Civic Democrat's initial candidate, the previous mayor, Jan Koukal, who withdrew his candidacy on Wednesday. The deal reinforces the partnership between the two parties already established at a national level by the so-called opposition agreement, under which the Civic Democrats agreed to tolerate the minority Social Democrat government.
Politicians from the right-of-centre coalition of smaller parties, kept from power by the latest deal, have reacted with anger to the appointment of the new mayor. Freedom Union leader, Jan Ruml, said that the deal did not reflect the result of the elections and would be damaging to the city. He added that he was angry at the Civic Democratic Party leader Vaclav Klaus, who only a few hours before had told him that there was still room for discussion on a right- of-centre Prague coalition. His party colleague, Vladimir Mlynar, accused the Civic and Social Democrats of being driven by a desire for power in itself. However, the Civic Democrats' deputy leader, Ivan Langer, defended his party, saying that the deal was simply the logical result of divisions on the right of the political spectrum.
The Czech Intelligence Service has launched an investigation into an alleged large-scale fraud. The affair revolves around forms that were allegedly for sale illegally for fifty thousand crowns, and would have enabled the buyer to forge screening certificates. These certificates are the documents that confirm whether or not an individual collaborated with the notorious former communist secret police, the StB. The spokesman of the Intelligence Service, Jan Subrt, said that the investigation aims to find out whether the fraud was a deliberate and systematic attempt to subvert the democratic system.
The smog hanging over much of the Czech Republic over recent days has begun to clear in many areas, but parts of North Moravia and the Moravian capital Brno remain on smog alert. The situation is at its worst in the North Moravian industrial city of Ostrava. The weather has contributed to serious air pollution in Prague, and in some parts of the city air quality levels yesterday sank below limits set for introducing traffic restrictions. However, so far no special measures have been introduced.
The Czech Federation of Jewish Communities has welcomed a government decision to set up a working committee, the aim of which is to help guarantee the return of property confiscated from Czech Jews during the Second World War. The head of the federation, Tomas Kraus, also criticised previous governments for failing to confront the issue. He added that one task of the committee will be to help speed up the process of looking for property that was stolen and then ended up abroad.
The new German government's call for Nato to change its nuclear doctrine by ruling out a first strike, has been welcomed by the Czech Communist Party. Other Czech parties have not commented on the suggestion, which has been heavily criticised by the United States. Communist parliamentary party leader, Vojtech Filip, said that the United States' reaction confirmed his party's objections to Nato expansion. The newly published results of an opinion poll conducted last month by the Institute for Public Opinion Research suggest that around fifty percent of Czechs suppport the country joining the Alliance.
The acting chairman of the Christian Democrats, Jan Kasal, has reacted with fury to claims by former Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus that his party came to a behind-the-scenes deal with the Communists and the ruling Social Democrats to force next year's budget through parliament. Mr Klaus accused the three parties of setting up a secret coalition, enabling the first reading of the budget to pass without debate through the lower house on Wednesday. In response Mr Kasal has accused Mr Klaus of deliberately trying to undermine the credibility of his party. He added that his Christian Democrats are not enamoured of the proposed budget, but have supported the government to avoid a political stalemate, which would have given very negative signals abroad.
And on the subject of the budget, Prime Minister Milos Zeman has said that the International Monetary Fund has given its full approval to the budget proposal, although it counts on a deficit of over thirty billion crowns. Mr Zeman said that he had discussed the budget during a recent visit by an IMF delegation to Prague.
A major international conference on family planning has is under way in Prague, organised by the International Planned Parenthood Federation which brings together 140 countries and is the world's largest voluntary organisation in the field of sexual health, rights and family planning. At the conference launch, the federation's president, Attiya Inayatullah pointed out that over half a million women die worldwide every year as a result of backstreet abortions. Czech delegate Radim Uzel told the CTK press agency that reform is also needed in Czech legislation, especially in the field of sterilisation and abortion. The conference also includes a multi-national youth parliament taking place today today to debate how young people see their sexuality.
And a look at the weather...
And I'm afraid it's more of the same with sleet and snow showers and temperatures between 2 and minus 2 degrees Celsius. There'll be further snow showers over the weekend with temperatures staying much the same. The good news is that for anyone heading for the mountains, there are good conditions for skiing just about everywhere.
And I'll end with a quick glance at what's coming up today...
Parliamentary Chairman, Vaclav Klaus, will be in Poland to discuss the two countries' common problems as they try to join the EU and Nato,
and we'll be looking at further reactions to the choice of Prague's new mayor.
But for the time being, that's all from the newsroom.
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