The NATO Secretary General George Robertson has said that the Czech Republic should try to speed up the process of modernizing its armed forces. After talks with President Havel and the Foreign Minister Jan Kavan, he said that progress had been made in the two years since the country joined NATO but that much still remained to be done. He repeated his criticism of the Czech government's plan to replace its aging fleet of MiG fighter aircraft, saying that the purchase would be extremely expensive and should not be at the expense of other aspects of the armed forces. President Havel said that he agreed that it was currently more important for the armed forces to establish a clear long-term vision for their future. Mr Robertson and Mr Havel both pointed to the symbolic significance of the NATO summit planned next year in Prague, for the first time in a former Warsaw Pact country.
President Havel's meeting with George Robertson was his first public appearance since he was admitted to hospital ten days ago suffering from acute bronchitis. The president's doctors said that his condition was improving, but that he was still being kept in hospital for intensive physiotherapy to help improve his breathing. President Havel is expected to remain in hospital until the end of the week.
The nationwide Czech census has been launched. Thousands of census officials, most of them students or pensioners, have begun distributing the forms to households throughout the country, and will start gathering them on the first of March. The census has not been without controversy, as critics claim that some of its questions intrude on people's basic right to privacy. Anyone who fails to fill out the forms will face a fine of ten thousand crowns, or over 250 US dollars.
The European Union has given the green light for talks to be launched with the Czech Republic on energy policy. The so-called Energy Chapter has to be concluded in order for the Czech Republic to join the Union, but until now talks had been blocked by Austria, in protest against Prague's pro-nuclear energy policy. The Energy Chapter will now be on the agenda in the next round of accession talks at the end of March. The Czech EU Ambassador, Libor Secka, said that the Czech Republic's decision to allow an environmental impact study on the Temelin nuclear power plant, had played an important role in ending the Austrian veto.
The governor of Upper Austria, which borders on the Czech Republic, has appealed to the Czech Republic not to reactivate the Temelin nuclear plant until it finds the precise cause of recent technical problems at the plant. Josef Puhringer said it would be an act of provocation and a blow to Czech-Austrian cooperation over the controversial plant. He was speaking in response to a recent comment by Temelin's management that it had repaired damage to a turbine at the plant, but was not sure what had caused the problem.
The loss-making state-owned Czech Railways have published results showing a very mixed performance. According to the figures, the railways carried nine percent more freight and four percent more passengers last year than in 1999. This comes after several years of declining passenger receipts. Overall income grew by less than three percent, while losses grew by twenty percent, topping four billion Czech crowns, that's just over a hundred million US dollars. On the bright side, the losses were twenty billion crowns less than originally expected.
A new opinion poll conducted by the Centre for Public Opinion Research suggests that the opposition coalition of four right-of-centre parties enjoys more support than any other political grouping. This reflects a trend seen in other polls conducted over recent days. The poll also suggests a small rise in the popularity of the ruling Social Democrats, and a corresponding fall in support for the largest single opposition force, the Civic Democratic Party. However the Centre for Public Opinion Research has said that the statistics may be the result of short-term shifts in public opinion created by the crisis around Czech Television.
The European Commission has announced that the Schengen Agreement, which allows for the free movement of EU citizens and labour, will not be expanded to included new European Union members until 2005 at the earliest. The first wave of new members is expected to join the Union before the European Parliamentary elections in 2004, which means that they will not automatically be part of Schengen from the moment they join. The Czech government has said it will not respond to the statement until it has further details about how the expanded Schengen agreement will look.
One of the greatest volleyball players in Czech history, Josef Musil, and the motorcyclist David Pabiska, have been given the Czech Fair Play award at a ceremony in Prague. Josef Musil, who is now sixty-eight, was an Olympic medallist twice over and was given the award in recognition for his life-long sporting achievements. David Pabiska was awarded for saving the life of a team-mate during the Czech Republic's cross-country championships last year. Ondrej Weber had swallowed his tongue after a collision, and Pabiska immediately went to his assistance. A further thirty-seven Fair Play awards were given to Czech schoolchildren, to encourage a sense of fair play among the youngest generation.
While it is stories from abroad, from Dracula to Joan of Arc that have dominated the Czech musical scene in recent years, one of Germany's top theatres, the Theater des Westens in Berlin, has announced it is shortly to premiere a musical based on a Czech story. This spring will see the world premiere of the musical Schwejk it Easy, based on the Adventures of the Good Soldier Svejk, written in the twenties by the Czech writer, Jaroslav Hasek. The theatre's director said that the story says as much to a modern audience, as it did in Hasek's time, as we still struggle to grope our way through incomprehensible bureaucracy.
And finally, a quick look at the weather. We can expect sleet and snow showers to continue through the day with temperatures between one and five degrees Celsius. With colder air coming in from the north-east, we can expect a significant fall in temperatures on Friday and the showers will turn to snow, with strong winds causing drifting in higher areas.
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