The lower house of the Czech Parliament has approved the continuing operation of Czech military missions in both Iraq and the Balkans. 500 Czech soldiers will continue to serve in the Balkans next year and 150 military police will be sent to Iraq. The Senate supported the move on Wednesday. The Czech military police in Iraq are to help train the local police, maintain order and discipline, investigate criminal acts and crimes against humanity and help search for weapons, explosives and drugs. In the Balkans, Czech soldiers will continue operating within the Czech-Slovak KFOR battalion in north-east Kosovo.
The Czech cabinet decided late on Wednesday to take up Sweden's offer for 14 new JAS-39 Gripen fighter jets to replace the Czech Republic's aging fleet of Mig-21s to be retired at the end of next year. The government followed an earlier recommendation by a commission of experts that had ranked Sweden's offer first among five offers in a government tender. Those included proposals from Belgium, Holland, and the United States, offering modernised F-16 fighter jets which are used by most NATO countries. Following Hungary, the Czech Republic becomes the second NATO country to select Gripens, manufactured by BAE Systems/Saab. A spokesman for the Swedish defence material command said that the financial terms of the contract would depend on whether the Czech government decided to lease the fighter planes for five or 10 years. The first Gripens are expected to be operational in April 2005, with deliveries to the Czech Republic to be concluded by late August of the same year.
Finance Minister Bohuslav Sobotka has said that companies investing into science, research and innovation should pay lower taxes. He added that these companies should have a higher rate of depreciation and more deductible items. The government is also preparing a cut in corporate contributions to the policy of employment. Minister Sobotka wants the Czech Republic to have lower effective taxes for companies than Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia as of 2006. The government coalition should agree on the definitive version of the tax package at the turn of January and February.
A court in the town of Prerov has ruled that former anticommunist activist and former intelligence officer with the Czech Republic's counter-intelligence service Vladimir Hucin, was wrongfully sentenced by communist courts in the 1970s. In 1977 Vladimir Hucin received a 9-month prison sentence for illegal arms possession and the illegal use of confidential information. Mr Hucin had initiated the renewed trial to clear his name.
The Barrandov film studios in Prague has said that the Oscar-winning director Roman Polanski will shoot a film adaptation of Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist in Prague next year. The script of the 60-million dollar budget film will be written by Oscar-winning Ronald Harwood. A senior executive of the Barrandov studios said this was not going to be the first adaptation of Oliver Twist filmed at the studios as a British television series of the same name was shot there in 1999. According to the studios, foreign filmmakers continue using the services of the Barrandov premises in Prague which have a 70-year history. Earlier worries that foreign crews might seek cheaper services and locations in more remote Eastern European countries like Romania and Bulgaria have not materialised.
Friday is expected to be cloudy with daytime temperatures ranging from minus 1 to plus 6 degrees Celsius.
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