Russia and the United States have not yet agreed on a new nuclear arms
treaty that is likely to be signed in Prague, White House spokesman Robert
Gibbs said on Wednesday. US President Barack Obama and his Russian
counterpart Dmitry Medvedev will speak in the coming days, and when the
details are worked out, the treaty will be signed in the Czech capital, the
US and Russian presidents are expected set to sign a new START treaty in Prague next month, the office of the Czech president said on Wednesday after a confirmation form the Russian ambassador in Prague. The Russian Embassy said the meeting could take place on April 8; on April 5 of last year, Mr Obama outlined his vision of a world free of nuclear weapons in a keynote speech at Prague Castle.
The European Commission questioned on Wednesday the long-term sustainability of Czech public finances. In an evaluation of the Czech Republic’s convergence programme, the commission also criticized the lack of measures to lower the state budget deficit below 3 percent of the gross domestic product in three years’ time, which is a condition for the adoption of the euro. The commission recommended the Czech government to outline a budget strategy for 2011 and 2012 with concrete measures to lower the deficit and to come up with reforms to ensure that Czech public finances are sustainable in the long run.
In related news, Czech government-issued bonds are among the safest in the
world, the daily Hospodářské noviny reported on Wednesday, referring to
a comparison of costs of insurance against possible state defaults compiled
by the Bloomberg news agency. Czech bonds ranked eighth; the list is topped
by Norway, while Iceland and Greece ranked lowest.
Analysts believe that this is the right time to issues state bonds, particularly in foreign currencies. Meanwhile, the Czech finance minister, Eduard Janota, said earlier that the state might borrow finances in foreign currencies in the first half of this year. According to the Finance Ministry, the Czech Republic this year needs to borrow 280 billion crowns, or more than 14.7 billion US dollars.
The Senate rejected on Wednesday a motion by the Christian Democrats to
raise maternity benefits to the levels of 2009. The motion also included
restoring insurance payments for the first three days of sick leave.
Senators from the right-of-centre Civic Democrats and the conservative
party TOP 09 said that if approved, the amendment would increase the state
budget deficit by another two billion crowns. The motion now will return to
the lower house which is expected to overturn the Senate veto in mid-April
with votes from Social Democrats, Christian Democrats and Communists.
The caretaker government lowered maternity benefits by 10 percentage points, and abolished payments for the first three days of sick leave in January as part of the cost cutting measures adopted to lower the state budget deficit.
Greenpeace ended on Wednesday a three-day protest atop a chimney at the
Prunéřov power plant in northern Bohemia, a Greenpeace spokesman said.
The activists want to meet the newly appointed Environment Minister Jakub
Šebesta, over plans to modernize the plant. Minister Šebesta agreed with
a meeting, a spokesman for the ministry said.
Thirteen Greenpeace activists climbed the 300-metre tall chimney at the Prunéřov power plant on Monday in protest against plans by the power plant’s owner, the Czech energy producer ČEZ, to modernize the facility. A study commissioned by the Environment Ministry, which was released last week, suggests the project does not include the best available technology. The previous environment minister, Jan Dusík, stepped down last week over pressure to grant ČEZ a permission to go ahead with the existing project.
In related news, Czech Human Rights and Minorities Minister Michael Kocáb
said on Wednesday he would not yet step down, as requested by the Green
Party which nominated him for the post. Mr Kocáb said his resignation
could further destabilize the Czech political scene. The human rights
minister said any personnel changes to the government should be agreed
between the prime minister, Jan Fischer, and the leaders of the Civic
Democrats, Social Democrats and the Greens; the parties which formed the
caretaker government last year.
The Green Party decided on Tuesday it would no longer support the caretaker government in protest against PM Fischer’s decision to ask the agriculture minister, Jakub Šebesta, to serve as the environment minister, a post previously occupied by a nominee of the Green Party, Minister Dusík who stepped down last week over a disagreement concerning the modernisation of the Prunéřov coal power plant.
Sales of mobile phones dropped by some 20 percent to 2.7 million in 2009, the website mobil.cz reported on Wednesday. The most popular brand was Nokia, with some 45 percent share of the market, while Sonny Ericsson recorded the biggest drop. Czechs also increasingly bought cheap touchscreen phones; every fourth mobile phone sold by Vodafone had a touch screen, the website said. Some 13.4 million active SIM cards were registered in the Czech Republic in 2009, representing 129 SIM cards per 100 inhabitants.
Two workers died in a milk processing plant in Trnávka, eastern Bohemia, on Wednesday of CO2 poisoning, while another six of the plant’s employees suffered light poisoning, the police said. The men died when rescuing their colleagues who opened a large whey tank to clean it. The latter were engulfed by poisonous gasses when they opened a cleaning hatch and lost consciousness. Two other workers came to their rescue and managed to pull them out. However, they themselves were unable to leave, and died of poisoning. The police suspects the workers were not using protective equipment.
Czech customs officers seized 5,200 imitation Viagra and Cialis pills in Prague on Wednesday, the biggest such seizure in years, a spokesman for the customs police said. The shipment, containing 4000 imitation Viagra and 1,200 imitation Cialis pills, was discovered during a routine check of mail at a post office in Prague. The package was sent from India to an address in the Czech Republic. The police estimated the price of genuine pills in the same quantity at around two million crowns, or more than 105,000 US dollars. A spokesman for the Czech Institute for Drug Control said both Viagra and Cialis are controlled substances in the Czech Republic and as such cannot be purchased in third countries.
Retired footballer Pavel Nedvěd is going to run a half-marathon in Prague at the weekend, the news website idnes.cz reported on Wednesday. The 37-year-old former star midfielder of Juventus Torino, who retired last year, registered for the Hervis Praue Half-Marathon 2010 which will start in the centre of the Czech capital at noon on Saturday. Pavel Nedvěd, who last appeared on the Czech national team in 2006, had mentioned earlier he would like to run a marathon.