The Czech Republic has received another 81 million Euros (2.4 billion Czech crowns) from the EU's Phare and ISPA programmes. The money is to help the country prepare for its accession to the European Union. The financial memorandum to the programme was signed in Prague by the head of the EC delegation in the Czech Republic Ramiro Cibrian and Czech Deputy Finance Minister Zdenek Hruby on Friday. According to Mr Cibrian, much of the money from the Phare programme is to be used in problem areas named in the EU's last evaluation report, while the funds from the ISPA programme are to help improve the country's sewage system. The programme, made up of 26 different projects, will also create better education and unemployment opportunities for the Roma community, improve the Czech justice system, and fight against money laundering.
The Temelin nuclear power plant in southern Bohemia is suffering further technical difficulties: after the plant's first bloc had just returned to full power following problems with the cooling system, the test run of the plant's second bloc second block had to be reduced to under 40 percent and then just 5 percent on Thursday following an electrical complication in the bloc's generator. An inspection team is investigating the cause of the problem. Temelin's first bloc has been undergoing a test-run since June 2002, whilst the 2nd bloc entered its test-run period just last month. Experts at the plant have prepared for higher technical difficulties this year than the country's other nuclear facility Dukovany. Temelin spokesman Milan Nebesar has indicated that it took between two and three years before the technology there was optimally synchronised.
Czech experts are to hold important posts during the reconstruction process in Iraq, according to the leader of the Czech team in Baghdad, Janina Hrebickova. Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, Ms Hrebickova said Czechs would be involved in the reconstruction of oil refineries as well as newly established ministries and other state offices. Some 20 Czechs experts are to work in the Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Aid in Iraq. Ms Hrebickova stressed that the Czech Republic's main priority was to help rebuild Iraq, torn apart by war and years of totalitarian rule, and not obtain contracts for Czech firms.
Czech President Vaclav Klaus has vetoed a bill submitted by parliament for the first time since his inauguration in March. Petr Hajek from the presidential office said on Tuesday that Mr Klaus refused to sign the bill on zoological gardens because it offered tax benefits to certain zoos. According to Mr Hajek, the bill introduces exceptional tax releases for a selected group of beneficial activities, thereby discriminating against other branches and potentially resulting in tax evasion. Since the law was largely supported by MPs in April, Mr Klaus' veto is expected to be overruled on May 27, when it will be re-discussed in parliament.
Economists have criticised plans unveiled by the government on Monday to reduce the budget deficit to prepare for adoption of the euro. Some economists said the measures would mean the country would not be able to meet the eurozone criterion of a budget deficit below three percent of GDP until after 2006, pushing back the earliest euro adoption date to 2009-2010. They said the basic outline of the plan was not far-reaching enough. The plan involves cuts in social benefits and tax changes to cut the fiscal gap from over six percent of GDP this year to four percent in 2006.
A new police study has claimed heroin gangs have begun moving their operations to bases outside the Czech Republic. In its latest annual report, the police's National Anti-Drug Centre said Balkan crime gangs responsible for much of Europe's heroin trafficking had been shifting warehouse operations to Poland and Slovakia. In addition, the report said Czechs were less likely to be hired as drug couriers by the Kosovo-Albanian, Croatian and Bulgarian gangs. The changes mark a shift away from the Czech Republic's long-time status as a trafficking route for heroin from the Balkans and Asia to neighbouring Germany and other parts of Western Europe.
Unemployment in the Czech Republic fell below 10 percent in April, but analysts expect it to climb again soon. The Labour Ministry announced on Monday that last month's jobless rate was 9.6 percent, down from 10 percent in March and the country's all-time record of 10.2 percent set in January and February. The ministry said seasonal hiring in construction and other sectors helped shorten lines for jobless benefits last month. However analysts said they believed the downturn was temporary, and would rise again soon.
Representatives of the three Czech ruling coalition parties have agreed to measures aimed at reducing the country's growing deficit of public finances. Cabinet experts agreed to reduce the number of state bureaucrats and to slow down wage growth in the public sector. The ministers also approved a radical reform of the pension scheme from a continuously financed system to a savings-based one. The retirement age will be increased to 63 from the current 61 for men and 60 for women. Czech economic experts and foreign institutions have repeatedly warned that the growing public finance gap is unsustainable and besides causing other problems, it could pose a threat to the country's adoption of the single European currency.
The Czech ice hockey team, who ended fourth at the world ice hockey championships in Finland on Saturday, have received a warm welcome home. Several dozen fans applauded each team member as they emerged at the at Prague Ruzyne airport on Sunday. The Czechs won world title in three of the past four years. The president of the Czech Ice Hockey Union, Karel Gut, said the fourth place was still a great success and that replacing the national team's three couches was out of the question.
A young Czech man who recently visited China has been admitted to Prague Bulovka hospital for fears he may have contracted the SARS disease. Doctors said the hospitalisation was more of a precautionary measure because the 30-year old man had fever but no other symptoms typical for SARS. Around 30 people so far have been taken to hospitals in the Czech Republic for suspcion of SARS but tests did not prove the disease in any of them. More than 500 people have died and thousands contracted the disease worldwide, with the biggest number of cases in China.