On a visit to Prague on Thursday the Irish prime minister, Bertie Ahern, discussed preparations for a new EU constitution with his Czech counterpart, Vladimir Spidla. Mr Ahern also addressed the EU constitution in a speech to the Czech Senate; he said he would seek a spirit of compromise and flexibility from all EU states, so as to reach agreement by the end of Ireland's presidency of the Union at the end of June.
A total of 19 customs officers from Breclav in south Moravia have been charged with taking bribes from lorry drivers from Balkan countries, a police spokesperson said on Thursday, adding that more arrests were expected. About half of the 800 or so trucks which cross the border at Breclav every day are from the Balkans.
A bill reducing the top value added tax rate from 22 to 19 percent has
been passed by the Chamber of Deputies, overturning a veto by President
Vaclav Klaus. All Chamber business had been suspended since Tuesday to
allow the foreign minister, Cyril Svoboda, more time to recover after a
recent car crash. Mr Svoboda was flown to Prague by helicopter from his
hospital in Brno; his vote was crucial because the government has a
majority of only one in the 200-seat lower house.
Finance Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said the new VAT rate could take effect as of Friday, when it is published in the Czech Republic's Collection of Laws. Minister Sobotka had been pushing hard to have the change adopted ahead of European Union accession on May 1, saying failure to do so would have harmed Czech trade with other EU states.
Mr Klaus is currently on an official visit to China, where he has made history by becoming the first Czech president to meet his Chinese counterpart. During Thursday's meeting in Beijing, President Hu Jintao pointed out that ten years ago Mr Klaus had been the first Czech prime minister to visit his country.
The National Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Abuse has released a warning about the incidence of a dangerous and unknown synthetic substance that poisoned two in Prague on April 15th: capsules with powder apparently similar in make-up to Lysergic acid diethylamide, or LSD. Eva Skrdlantova of the centre said on Wednesday there was reason to suspect the capsules contained an as yet unknown hallucinogenic substance that could be highly dangerous and even life-threatening. Meanwhile, blood-tests on the two users showed the presence of both cocaine and metabolites in the bloodstream. Tests are underway to determine the exact nature of the substance.
Czech military police stationed at an academy in the town of Zubair, near Basra, were lucky to escape injury on Wednesday after a blast - a car bombing - went off outside academy headquarters, killing four and injuring nine. At the time of the attack members of the Czech contingent were inside the base and out of harm's way; even so after Wednesday security is expected to be heavily increased. The attack on the academy in Zubair was only part of a series of coordinated and devastating suicide bombings in and around Basra on the day that claimed at least 68 lives. Czech military police in the southern city of Basra, which is under British control, have been serving in the area since the beginning of the year.
Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda hospitalised since suffering a serious neck injury in a car accident last week, is to be air-lifted to Prague from Brno on Thursday to take part in a crucial vote in the Chamber of Deputies. The government coalition, which enjoys just the slimmest of majorities in Parliament, will be trying to pass a crucial VAT bill ahead of European accession. The bill, which aims to reduce the current VAT rate from 22 to 19 percent, was vetoed just last month by President Vaclav Klaus. Foreign Ministry spokesman Vit Kolar meanwhile said on Wednesday that preparations to get Mr Svoboda to the Chamber were being fine-tuned. On Thursday Mr Svoboda is expected to arrive in Prague at 11 a.m. and will be taken to the Chamber of Deputies by ambulance, accompanied by medical professionals.
Tens of thousands of civil servants staged a one-hour protest strike Wednesday over cuts in their salary bonuses, with Czech unions estimating more than 200, 000 civil servants took part. Workers are angry over the government's decision to pay them only 10 percent, instead of the usual 50 percent, of the so-called 13th month bonus. State workers, and some private sector employees, in the Czech Republic have traditionally received two bonuses each year equal to a half of a month's wages, known as 13th and 14th pay. On Wednesday hospitals, schools, libraries and museums joined the protest by keeping their doors closed one hour later than usual. Alena Vondrova, chairwoman of the Union of Public Sector Employees told news agencies that the strike showed the government public civil servants would not accept the cuts in silence.
The Czech Republic is to reopen its diplomatic mission in North Korea in the coming months, in order to play a greater part in solving the nuclear crisis on the Korean peninsula, Deputy Foreign Minister Petr Kolar said on Tuesday. The Czechs closed their mission in North Korea in the early 1990s, shortly after the collapse of communism in eastern Europe. The prime ministers of South Korea and Japan last year called on the Czech Republic to help mediate in the crisis. The Czech Communist Party is said to have maintained its contacts with North Korea, which has an embassy in Prague.
A crucial Chamber of Deputies vote on a bill to reduce the top VAT rate
from 22 to 19 percent has been postponed until Thursday. All Chamber
business has been postponed to allow the foreign minister, Cyril Svoboda,
more time to recover from a recent neck operation. The government, which
has a majority of just one in the 200-seat Chamber, needs Mr Svoboda's
vote to overturn a veto on the bill by President Vaclav Klaus. The
minister is expected to fly to Prague by helicopter from his hospital in
Brno to take part in the vote.
The government say the change must be adopted to bring the VAT rate in the Czech Republic into line with that of European Union countries by accession on May 1. However, Mr Klaus's party, the Civic Democrats, say the bill is a mishmash in which the government meets EU requirements but also adds price increases of its own.