The Czech Defence Minister Vladimir Vetchy has been dismissed. A spokesman for President Vaclav Havel said on Thursday that the Prime Minister, Milos Zeman, had asked the President to sack Mr Vetchy for failing to manage the ministry properly. He gave no further details. Mr Vetchy will be replaced on Friday by his deputy Jaroslav Tvrdik. There has been mounting speculation surrounding his departure for months. Critics say he has failed to introduce key reforms of the Czech armed forces, and there has also been criticism over several suspicious defence contracts. There were further calls for his resignation this week, following a recent trip to China. Mr Vetchy reportedly held talks on military co-operation, at a time when relations between Washington and Beijing are extremely tense over the U.S. spy plane dispute. Observers said the discussions caused severe embarrassment to the Czech Foreign Ministry, as the Czech Republic and the U.S. are now partners in NATO.
Mr Havel's spokesman also confirmed that Trade and Industry Minister Miroslav Gregr will be appointed deputy Prime Minister on Friday. Observers say the move strengthens Mr Gregr's influence in the Social Democrat government, already bolstered by the departure of rival Pavel Mertlik, who resigned as Finance Minister several weeks ago.
Police said on Thursday they had defused six parcels containing explosives, in what appears to be revenge attacks against a failed Prague housing firm. On Wednesday the son of the manager of bankrupt housing development company H-System was seriously injured after opening one of the parcels. No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks and police are still trying to determine the type of explosive. Dozens of people lost hundreds of thousands of crowns each in deposits on apartments H-System was planning to build before it went bankrupt in 1997. H-System clients condemned the attacks on Thursday.
And police in the northern town of Decin defused a 100-kilogramme bomb from the Second World War on Thursday. The bomb, apparently dropped by advancing Russian forces in the final days of the war, was discovered on Thursday morning by workers on a building site. It was removed and destroyed by police pyrotechnics experts in a nearby quarry.
Workers at the controversial Temelin nuclear power station are shutting down the plant's nuclear reactor, and Temelin will be closed for two months for major repair work. A spokesman said the reactor was being shut down to save fuel as contractors refit the plant's troubled generator turbine. Vibrations and oil leaks in the turbine have forced Temelin's operators to interrupt the plant's test operation on a number of occasions in recent months, leading to renewed calls by Austrian anti-nuclear groups for Temelin to be shut down for good. Temelin's operators, the state-owned power utility CEZ, have said teething problems are normal in any testing phase.
Police say three people were lightly injured on Thursday when a helicopter ambulance crash landed near a hospital in the north-eastern town of Valasske Mezirici. According to unconfirmed reports the helicopter was forced to make an emergency landing from a height of 17 metres.
Vladimir Vujtek has become Russia's first ever foreign ice-hockey coach, after signing on with the team Lokomotiv Yaroslavl. The 53-year-old Vujtek replaces Pyotr Vorobyov, who was sacked last month following Lokomotiv's fourth-place finish in the premier division. The Czech Republic have dominated world ice hockey in recent years, winning the last two world championships as well as the 1998 Nagano Olympics. The Russians, once the sport's superpower, have been on a steady decline since the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991.
And finally a glance at the weekend's weather. It will stay cloudy and humid this weekend, with more showers and occasional thunderstorms. Temperatures will be lower than in recent days - Saturday will be no warmer than 20 degrees Celsius, and Sunday will be between 16 and 18 degrees Celsius.
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