Prime Minister Milos Zeman has announced that he will nominate a new finance minister on Thursday, following the sudden resignation of Finance Minister Pavel Mertlik on Tuesday. According to the prime minister, Mr. Mertlik had made his continued presence in the government conditional on the removal of another member of the Cabinet, and Mr. Zeman called this attempted blackmail. At a press conference on Wednesday, Mr. Mertlik outlined the reasons for his resignation, saying that the Cabinet had delayed key privatisation projects, and that he had not felt any support from Prime Minister Milos Zeman. The man tipped to succeed Mr. Mertlik at this point is Jiri Rusnok, currently a deputy minister at the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs. The prime minister is due to seek presidential approval for the new minister on Thursday.
Czech President Vaclav Havel says he is shocked at the attitude of the Czech police towards far-right extremists. Mr. Havel's comments on extremism were made in connection with a concert on Saturday, which was organised by extreme right-wing skinhead groups, where the police took no action against any of the participants. The concert, called "Concert for Your Race", was attended by roughly four hundred skinheads from the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and Germany. President Havel said he hoped that the actions of the police would be investigated and that the law could be amended to take more effective action against extremists.
On a related note, after a meeting with leading police officials on Wednesday, Interior Minister Stanislav Gross announced that he has run out of patience with events such as the concert on Saturday night, and that the fight against extremists is now one of his main priorities.
The Austrian government has announced plans to analyse the results of an environmental impact study on the Temelin nuclear power plant in South Bohemia. Austrian environmentalists have protested fiercely against Temelin, and Austrian-Czech relations have been strained over the issue. At a meeting in Melk in Austria in December, the leaders of the two countries agreed to carry out an environmental impact study in order to address Austrian safety concerns. According to the results of the study, released on Wednesday, the plant is safe and poses a minimal safety risk. The Austrian government will apparently analyse the study and will release a statement on the issue by the middle of next week. Environmentalists in both Upper and Lower Austria have rejected the study, saying that the results are exaggerated.
Czech President Vaclav Havel has stated that he would like to see some powers currently enjoyed by the national authorities transferred to regional authorities as quickly as possible. The regional authorities have been in operation since elections for regional parliaments late last year. Some powers have been transferred to the new authorities, but according to President Havel, they need to be able to collect their own taxes in order to finance their own operations. The president believes that a reluctance on the part of officials in Prague to speed up this process is a fundamental problem.
The High Court in Prague has sentenced a man charged with the contract killing of a twenty-eight-year-old woman to fifteen years in prison. The man was allegedly hired by a friend to carry out the murder, because of a dispute over a flat in Prague. The defendant then apparently stabbed the woman to death with a hunting knife.
And finally, a quick look at the weather forecast. Friday should see cloudy to overcast skies with scattered rain showers in places. Daytime high temperatures are expected to reach seven degrees Celsius. Night-time lows on Thursday are expected to drop to minus two degrees Celsius.
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