The newly appointed defense minister Jaroslav Tvrdik has been given three months in which to produce a blueprint on establishing a professional army. Mr. Tvrdik replaces Vladimir Vetchy, who was sacked on Thursday for failing to manage the ministry properly. He is being blamed for failing to implement reforms and stop corruption. The newly appointed minister, who served as deputy defense minister under Vladimir Vetchy, is seen as an energetic figure capable of resolving the sector's long accumulated problems and stopping the steady drain of experienced career soldiers from the Czech armed forces. In picking him for office Prime Minister Milos Zeman broke the unwritten rule that the army should be headed by a civilian, which has been respected by all governments since the overthrow of communism in 1989. Jaroslav Tvrdik is a career soldier.
A major police operation is underway to trace the person responsible for a series of letter bombs which were sent to people linked to a failed housing development company. Over the past 48 hours police have diffused six parcels containing explosives and warned everyone connected with the housing firm H- System to report any suspicious looking deliveries. One of the first letter bombs to be delivered exploded injuring the son of the company's manager. An eighth delivery to the firm's lawyer on Friday turned out to be a false alarm. Police are busy investigating people who lost hundreds of thousands of crowns each in deposits on houses which H-system was planning to build before it went bankrupt in 1997.
EU Commissioner Gunter Verheugen has attempted to dispel Austrian fears regarding the safety of the Temelin nuclear power plant in south Bohemia. On a working visit to Vienna he expressed the view that the two month shutdown for repair work on the plant was no reason for concern. Austrian nuclear activists tried to put pressure on the EU official, greeting him in Vienna with gas masks and banners asking "What are you doing about Temelin Mr. Verheugen?". Speaking at a news conference later the EU commissioner asked for "more composure" pointing out that the Czech side had already made concessions it was not obliged to make. A spokeswoman for the Greens party later described the EU commissioner's stand as an insult to Austrian citizens.
Meanwhile, the Austrian government has said it wants to use the two-month shutdown of the Temelin nuclear power plant to push through environmental and safety demands. Austrian environment minister Wilhelm Molterer said on Friday that the unscheduled two month shutdown confirmed suspicions that the turbine problems were far more serious than they had been made out to be. " The key issue here is that we now use the time aggressively and intently to ensure that the Melk agreement is fully adhered to" Mr Molterer said on Austrian radio.
The European Commission confirmed on Friday that following the EU's eastwards expansion there will be a seven-year restriction on the purchase of property in the new member states. The transition period should give the new members time to restructure their farm sector and prepare for competition from richer Westerners, who according to some observers at least - will take full advantage of low property prices and buy up cheap land, houses and flats. The price of farm and forestry land in the candidate states is said to be 10 to 40 times cheaper than in the EU. The commission suggested that the situation should be reviewed after three years.
Finally, a quick look at the weather: The weekend ahead of us should be overcast and rainy but fairly warm with temperatures between 15 and 20 degs C.
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