During a conference on Afghanistan in Berlin on Wednesday Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda met American Secretary of State Colin Powell, discussing Czech military commitment in Afghanistan and the Czech Republic's role in the continuing war on terror. The Czech foreign minister assured Mr Powell that the Czechs would continue in Afghanistan with 109 Special Forces troops taking part in the U.S.-led operation "Enduring Freedom" and additional soldiers taking part in the ISAF peacekeeping operation. Mr Svoboda also told journalists on Wednesday that the Czech government was interested in finding funds to help in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, for instance in building and renewing the country's cement works. However, for now it remains unclear whether the Czech government will be able to find the necessary funds for the project.
The Lower House of Parliament on Wednesday voted in favour of raising TV and radio license fees to 100 crowns and 45 crowns a month respectively. This fee is to be paid by all households regardless of whether they do or do not own a television and radio receiver. The proposed amendment also envisages less advertising time for public broadcaster Czech TV - a reduction to 0.8 percent from the present 1 percent of overall broadcasting time. The bill was approved by a one vote majority and has been strongly criticized by the opposition. It must now pass through the Senate and then be signed by the president.
The commander of the Czech contingent in Iraq Jiri Neubauer has revealed that Czech military police have trained some 1,200 Iraqi police since the end of last year. Mr Neubauer made the announcement on Wednesday just as a group of Czechs returned home after their first two-month stay in Iraq. Apart from their training mission, the Czech instructors, who are based near the southern Iraqi city of Basra, have also been involved in the fight against terrorism and policing duties. On Wednesday, 35 from a total of 80 Czech troops in Iraq returned home and will be now replaced. Meanwhile, four Iraqi children, aged between seven and fourteen, set to undergo surgery in the Czech Republic, also arrived on the contingent flight.
The Rossmann pharmacy chain has been ordered by a Prague court to pay 50, 000 crowns as well as offer a formal apology to compensate for discriminating against a Czech Romany woman. Renata Kotlarova was discriminated against by the multi-national company when she applied for work at one of the chain's stores in Cheb but was refused point blank and not given a requisite interview. Mrs Kotlarova filed suit against the multi-national firm with the aid of the Prague-based Counselling Centre for Citizenship, Civil, and Human Rights. The organisation sent one of its employees carrying a hidden tape recorder into the store to apply for the same job. Unlike the Romany woman, however, she was given a regular job interview, although she presented identical job qualifications.
On a visit to Finland, the Czech Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla criticized movement of labour restrictions within the enlarged EU. Of all the EU member states only Britain and Ireland have opened their labour markets to the newcomers. The Czech Prime Minister said the restrictions introduced against the new EU countries were ungrounded and based on prejudice. The Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen countered that although his country had introduced a two year restriction period it is at the same time very flexible in granting labour permits. 8o% of all applications submitted have been granted, he said.
The Senate on Tuesday overturned a proposed bill that would have banned abortions in the Czech Republic. The bill was drafted by the Christian Democrats and would have sent a doctor who performed an illegal abortion to five years in prison. Anyone found guilty of helping a woman to get an illegal abortion or persuading her to have it would have faced up to a year in prison. 134 out of 170 senators present in the upper chamber voted against the bill.
Czech Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla has begun an official two day visit to Finland. He is scheduled to meet with the Finnish President Tarja Halonen, members of Cabinet and the country's business leaders. On Tuesday the Czech Prime Minister is expected to present a lecture on what the Czech Republic expects of EU membership.
The South Bohemian Border Police have decided to have more guards along the Czech-Austrian border, in reaction to the increasing number of foreigners attempting to migrate to Austria. A border police spokesperson said on Monday that ever more Chechens and Georgian nationals, sometimes entire families, apply for asylum in the Czech Republic, only to cross the country's border into western European states.
The country's civil servants may go on strike to protest against Sunday's Cabinet decision to give them only limited end of year bonuses, in line with the government's fiscal reform plan. Despite protests from trade unions the Cabinet agreed to pay the country's 450,000 civil servants only 10 percent of their so-called 13th monthly salaries, a special end of year bonus which was guaranteed by law in the past. Civil servants say their annual incomes will drop significantly without this supplement to their wages and have threatened to launch various protest actions. At a meeting of trade union representatives on Monday, trade union leaders agreed to call onto all union members and civil servants to go on a one-hour strike after the Easter holiday.
Investigators have come to the conclusion that no one can be held responsible for last December's fall of a 30-metre Christmas tree, which left five people injured. The tree crushed to the ground on Prague's Old Town square after a strong gust of wind snapped it at its base. One of the people injured, a 54-year old British tourist, is now in a wheel chair after suffering fractures to both femurs and the spine. A Prague police spokesperson said on Monday that the tree snapped because it was made of bad wood and not because it was not stabilised properly.