The government has approved the lease of 14 Gripen fighter jets from Sweden for ten years at a cost of around 20 billion crowns. The leasing contracts will also include offset programmes of Swedish investment into the Czech economy. The fighters will replace the aging Czech fleet of MiG-21 planes, which must be decommissioned by the end of 2004. The government chose the Gripens over a Belgian offer of updated F-16 fighters and similar planes from the Netherlands. Canada offered F/A-18 fighters and the United States offered an older variant of F-16s. Although Sweden is not a NATO member, the British-Swedish maker of the planes says the Gripens are fully compatible with the alliance's air forces.
The largest Czech lorry maker, Tatra, has signed a 6 million-dollar contract to supply 62 lorries to the Iraqi government. Tatra, whose participation in the tender was sheltered by its parent Terex Corporation, must supply the first six lorries to Iraq by November. Tatra board member Ronald Adams said the company had beaten U.S., German and Ukrainian rivals. The Czech Foreign Ministry has said Tatra's success could open the way to the Iraqi market for other Czech companies. Besides support from the Czech government, Tatra probably also benefited from the fact that it has an American owner. Only two Czech companies besides Tatra have managed to win contracts in Iraq to date.
The State Authority for Nuclear Safety has said it will complain about the European Commission's steps in checking Sunday's defect at the Temelin nuclear power plant. Experts from the Commission arrived unexpectedly at Temelin on Wednesday to inspect the scene of the accident in which 3,000 litres of radioactive water leaked out of the primary circuit of the power plant's second unit. The head of the State Authority for Nuclear Safety, Dana Drabova, said the European Commission had never dealt with such an "unimportant" defect, adding that in her opinion the inspectors had come for political reasons. After their visit to Temelin, the EC experts said they had no reason to doubt the State Authority's statement that the accident was unimportant.
The Czech Republic has fielded a record number of candidates for the upcoming elections to the European Parliament. A total of 31 Czech parties and movements will compete in the June 11-12 elections — far more than any other EU member state apart from Spain, the daily Hospodarske noviny reports. Whereas Spain has a long tradition of fielding regional candidates, the Czech field is exceptionally wide due to the low cost of registering a political entity, which is 15,000 crowns (about 500 euros). In Slovakia, registration costs three times as much and only 17 parties will vie for seats in the European Parliament; in Austria, the deposit is equivalent to 119,000 crowns, and only six parties are running, the paper notes.
Separate reports published by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) on Tuesday say that the Roma minority are still being discriminated against in the Czech Republic, Greece and Hungary. The report on the Czech Republic said "there have been few noticeable improvements in the situation of Roma" whose "marginalisation from mainstream society continues through their ghettoisation in substandard housing complexes on the outskirts of cities", said the ECRI, the Council of Europe's expert body on combating racism. It added that racially motivated violence and ill-treatment of Roma by the Czech police "continue to be problems of concern".
The Czech Republic has launched an international campaign to promote a planned issue of "eurobonds", by which it hopes to help fund reform of its public finances. A tour promoting the bonds in several European capitals got under way on Monday. The minister of finance, Bohuslav Sobotka, told the Czech BBC the bond issue could raise a billion crowns.
President Vaclav Klaus has nominated Ivana Janu to fill one of the empty seats on the Czech Constitutional Court, a spokesman for the president said on Monday. The Senate is expected to discuss her candidature in the near future. Ms Janu is a former member of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and is a widely respected expert on international public law.
A two-year-old girl is in a critical condition in hospital after she and her mother were knocked down by a head doctor in the grounds of Prague's Vinohrady Teaching Hospital on Monday. A spokesperson for the hospital said alcohol had been found in the doctor's blood, adding that he will be dismissed following consultations with the doctor's trade union.
Paul McCartney became the first member of the Beatles to appear in the Czech Republic when he played a concert in front of around 50,000 fans in Prague on Sunday night. Mr McCartney's two and a half hour set was almost completely made up of Beatles songs, with many fans singing along to classics such as Hey Jude and Yesterday.