The Prime Minister Milos Zeman has announced that the British-Swedish consortium behind the Gripen jet fighter has met all the conditions for a tender to supply the Czech air force with new aircraft. Mr Zeman said four ministers had been given one month to submit their objections to the Gripen offer to the cabinet before a final decision is taken at the end of November. The tender, the biggest in the country's post-Communist history, has been controversial, with the British-Swedish Saab-BAE Systems consortium the only manufacturer left in the bid after four companies pulled out earlier this year. The consortium has agreed to invest 150 percent of the price tag of between 24 and 36 new jet fighters back into the Czech Republic in an ambitious offset programme.
The government also announced on Monday that it was postponing the introduction of visas for Romanian citizens until January 1st. The cabinet had previously announced visas would be introduced on November 1st, but Prime Minister Zeman said the number of Romanian illegal immigrants detained in the Czech Republic had fallen substantially. The decision to postpone the introduction of visas is tied to moves to harmonise Czech foreign policy with that of the European Union. The EU has placed Romania on a list of countries whose citizens will not in future need visas to enter EU countries, and observers say introducing a contradictory policy could cause Prague some embarrassment.
The cabinet approved the revised draft budget for 2002 in a meeting on Monday. The draft proposes revenues of 701.9 billion crowns and expenditures of 748.1 billion crowns, and a deficit of 46.2 billion. The previous proposal with a deficit of 52.2 billion was rejected by the lower house two weeks ago. The main objections were an excessive deficit and the structure of revenues. The opposition said the government was relying on uncertain sources of revenue, such as proceeds from the privatisation of remaining state-owned companies.
Twelve people including a retired U.S. astronaut remained in hospital on Tuesday following Sunday's crash-landing of an army helicopter near the southern town of Milevsko. The 67-year-old former astronaut of Czech origin, Eugene Cernan, remains under observation at Prague's Central Military Hospital. Details of his condition were not released, although there are reports he could be released later on Tuesday. A retired Czech cosmonaut flying with Mr Cernan, 53-year-old Vladimir Remek, also remained hospitalised with unspecified injuries, while an air hostess is still in a serious condition. Investigators are still trying to establish the cause of the crash, which saw the Russian-built helicopter suddenly lose power and fall about 150 metres to the ground.
President Vaclav Havel returned to hospital on Monday to continue treatment for chronic bronchitis, after attending Sunday's state ceremony at Prague Castle. Doctors said Mr Havel had once again come down with a fever, and his right lung remained blocked. The president gave a speech and handed out awards at a ceremony on Sunday evening marking the 83rd anniversary of the foundation of the former Czechoslovakia. There is no word yet on when he will be released from hospital. Mr Havel, who is 65, was admitted to hospital last Tuesday suffering from chronic bronchitis, probably caused by a viral infection. His second and final term as Czech president ends in 2003.
The deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla said on Monday that the Czech Republic could expect a positive progress report from the European Commission this year. Mr Spidla was speaking after talks in Brussels with the European Union's Commissioner for Enlargement, Guenther Verheugen. The commissioner said after the meeting that the Czech Republic had overcome major obstacles to the accession process, and said the country was clearly in a position to close entry negotiations by the end of 2002. One of the major problems referred to by Mr Verheugen was the Czech stance to the free movement of labour chapter. Prague finally accepted restrictions to the free movement of labour on Friday.
President Vaclav Havel signed an amendment to the Czech Constitution on Monday allowing the Czech Republic's integration with the EU. The amendment was passed by parliament earlier in October, and says the country's membership of the EU must be decided either by a referendum or a three fifths' majority in parliament. Under the amendment every international agreement ratified by the Czech Republic will automatically become part of its legislation. If the agreement clashes with existing Czech legislation, the international agreement will take precedence.
111 Russian and Ukrainian prisoners continued their hunger strike on Monday, in protest at alleged violations of their rights. The hunger strike continued in four prisons around the country, although a group of Russian-speaking inmates ended their protest in East Bohemia's Valdice prison. The protest was sparked off by an incident at Valdice on Friday involving a Ukrainian inmate.
And finally a look at the weather. Tuesday will be another cloudy and damp day, but slightly warmer than previous days with temperatures rising to 14 degrees Celsius. Temperatures at night will fall to lows of five degrees.
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