February saw the highest monthly trade balance surplus in the country's history, according to preliminary data from the Czech Statistical Office. Exports and imports grew by 19.5% and 14.5% year-on-year, respectively and the trade balance amounted to 13.6 billion crowns, which is 8.8 billion higher than in February last year. The figures were mainly influenced by a 3.4 billion crown increase in the trade surplus in machinery and transport equipment and by a 3.3 billion crown decrease in the trade deficit in mineral fuels, lubricants and related materials.
The opposition Social Democrats and the Communists, who hold 100 of the 200 seats in Parliament, have ruled out support for the government's financial reform package. The two parties say the package, which aims to slash taxes and public spending, only benefits the wealthy. Social Democrat leader Jiri Paroubek told journalists on Wednesday that the prices of basic necessities like food, medicine, and water would rise and people with monthly salaries under 40,000 crowns (a little over 1,800 US dollars) would lose out.
Over fifty of the 300 employees at CzechInvest, a government agency promoting business and investment, have handed in their resignation. They include all ten members of the board of directors. The employees are protesting at the dismissal of the agency's general director Tomas Hruda. Trade and Industry Minister Martin Riman sacked Mr. Hruda last week citing poor management. The dismissed general director ascribed the decision to problematic personal relations with Mr. Riman.
An opinion poll commissioned by Czech TV suggests that most Czechs agree with Deputy Prime Minister Jiri Cunek's recently expressed views on Romanies. Asked by a newspaper whether other people should receive state subsidies like Romanies, Mr Cunek said non-Roma would need to get a suntan - an allusion to the colour of Romanies' skin - cause chaos in their families and light fires on town squares before politicians would regard them as badly off. In the poll conducted by the STEM agency, 64 percent of respondents agreed with Mr Cunek and 58 percent said he should not have to leave his post in government.
The latest album by Czech Romany rap act Gypsy.cz has become the first Czech album to make the top ten of the European World Music Charts. Romano Hip Hop is eighth in the charts. The charts are drawn up once a month when radio world music specialists from twenty European countries select their individual top ten favourites out of current world music releases.
The cabinet has approved the delivery of 12 helicopters to Afghanistan. The six Mi-17 transport and six Mi-24 combat helicopters are currently being repaired and modernised at the Malesice base. The Czech Republic was asked to donate the decommissioned aircraft last year to develop Afghanistan's Air Force and help in providing humanitarian aid to inaccesible areas. NATO is covering all costs, which are expected to amount to hundreds of millions of crowns.
The European Commission has fined the Czech Republic 12.3 million euros (close to 350 million crowns and 16.4 million US dollars). The fine was given because Czech traders stocked up on meat, fruit, and rice before EU entry in order to sell them at a higher price once the country joined the Union. Prague was among eight other EU members that were penalised but only Poland received a higher fine. The countries have four years to pay the money.
A district court in Ostrava, Moravia, has sentenced the owner of a travel agency to seven years in prison for selling bogus holiday packages. Hundreds of clients, mainly pensioners, who had bought the trips to Croatia from the travel agency Harmonie Medical were left stranded without a place to stay and a flight back home. The owner of the agency, Hana Viteckova, owes around 19 million crowns to business partners and over 600 former clients.
The governing coalition Christian Democrats are discussing public finance reform plans and the political future of their chairman and Deputy Prime Minister Jiri Cunek at a national convention. Mr Cunek is accused of corruption and is in trouble over recent offensive remarks that he made about the Roma community. At a late night meeting of the governing coalition on Tuesday the Civic Democrats and the Greens made it clear that Mr Cunek's continued presence in government has become untenable and that the Christian Democratic Party should resolve the problem without delay. Mr Cunek has refused to resign despite growing pressure on him to do so.