A group of around 70 children from the Russian town of Beslan was due to arrive in the Czech Republic on Wednesday evening to undergo medical treatment and rehabilitation. A hostage crisis at their school in September ended in the deaths of more than 300 people. The children, accompanied by parents and teachers, as well as psychologists, will be staying in the west Bohemian spa town of Karlovy Vary, where there is a sizable Russian community.
The Czech president, Vaclav Klaus, has rejected a vote of no-confidence in Ukraine's prime minister, Viktor Yanukovych, passed by the country's parliament. Mr Yanukovych came first in Ukraine's presidential elections amid widespread allegations of voting irregularities. Mr Klaus said, however, the no-confidence vote would lead to increased instability in the country. He said he was worried about steps being taken which could lead to a "point of no return" in Ukraine. The Czech president has also called for a re-run of the disputed presidential election.
The hard-line Communist Party of Czechoslovakia is planning to stand in general elections for the first time in 2006, leader Miroslav Stepan said on Wednesday. Mr Stepan, the Communist Party chief in Prague before 1989, spent two and a half years in prison in the early 1990s for trying to crush the Velvet Revolution. He said his party were growing in strength and attracting disaffected members of the more mainstream Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia, which is the second biggest opposition group in the Czech parliament.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has called on the Czech Republic to speed up pension and health care reforms. In a report on the state of the economy published on Tuesday, the OECD warned that the objective of achieving a deficit equal to three percent of GDP by 2008, which is a condition for adopting the euro, would not be reached without further measures. The Czech Republic would like to join the euro-zone sometime at the end of the decade.
Finance minister Bohuslav Sobotka has called for an emergency session of Parliament which would freeze the salaries of deputies, senators and ministers in the coming year. The Lower House recently approved a law which postpones a planned increase in the salaries of policemen, firemen and other emergency services but which at the same time raises the salaries of deputies, senators, cabinet ministers and state attorneys as of January 1st of 2005. Coming at a time of cuts in public spending, the news evoked plenty of criticism. Minister Sobotka said that with goodwill from both houses of Parliament there was still time to reverse this decision.
The governing coalition has agreed on a plan to reduce public spending by seventy billion crowns in the years 2006 and 2007. The planned reduction in public spending is in line with the EU convergence programme and failure to adhere to it could result in steep fines and problems with accessing EU solidarity finds. The money should be saved predominantly on social benefits and in the state sector.
Finance Minister Sobotka has called for a decision on the privatization of telecommunications operator Cesky Telecom to be made this Wednesday. In an interview for the CTK news agency, minister Sobotka said a decision should be made without further loss of time on whether the states' 51 percent stake in Cesky Telecom would be sold directly to a sole investor or through the capital market. If it were through the capital market, the privatization of Telecom could begin before the end of the year. The Cabinet is split on how best to proceed. Several ministers, including Sobotka, favour a flotation on the capital markets since it would bring immediate funds to the cash-strapped government. Several previous attempts to sell the government's stake in Telecom failed.
The Czech senate has approved an amendment to the energy law that aims to liberalize the country's electricity and gas markets by 2007. Under the terms of the amendment, large firms will be able to choose their gas supplier as of January 2005. The following year, the market will open to smaller firms. By the end of 2006, the entire market is to be fully liberalized. The amendment also calls for the separation of transmission and distribution networks on electricity and gas markets by 2007.