It is not yet clear whether any Czechs were among the victims of Sunday's tsunami disaster in Southern Asia. Czech travel agencies say they have established contact with all of their clients but hundreds of Czechs are known to have travelled to the region by themselves. The Foreign Ministry has decided to release ten million crowns (over 300,000 euros) from its budget to aid the affected regions. A crisis committee meeting was also held on Monday morning to coordinate help for stranded Czech tourists. The Ministry has also set up a special information hotline for the families of Czechs who are still missing in Southern Asia: +420 22418 1111, +420 22418 2425, +420 22418 2254, +420 22418 2985.
Some 2,000 Ukrainians living in the Czech Republic cast absentee ballots in the repeated second round of Ukraine's presidential election on Sunday. This is a third less than was the case in November. In the Czech Republic, 7,300 Ukrainians were registered to vote but many chose to go to the polls in their homeland instead. Ukraine attempted to elect their president for the third time in two months after November's second round of the election was confirmed rigged and annulled by the Supreme Court. Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych was declared the winner of that vote. Election officials say opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko has won the re-run.
The Archbishop of Prague, Cardinal Miloslav Vlk, has taken over the symbolic Bethlehem Light from scouts in St Vitus Cathedral at Prague Castle. Cardinal Vlk said he believes that along with the flame lit at the birthplace of Jesus Christ, people bring home love and respect for one another. Until Christmas Eve people can come to light their own candles in the cathedral and also in the lobby of the Czech Radio building in Prague. The Bethlehem Light tradition was established by the Austrian radio station ORF in 1986. In the Czech Republic, this tradition started after the collapse of Communism in 1989. The Bethlehem Light is protected and distributed all over the country by scouts and Czech Radio employees.
The Czech Republic has joined a UN Security Council resolution lifting the sanctions imposed on Iraq in 1990 and supporting the renewal of the country. The government-proposed bill was signed on Thursday by President Vaclav Klaus. Among other things, the bill bans the import and export of artefacts that are part of the Iraqi cultural heritage, have a historic, cultural, archaeological, scientific or religious significance or have been stolen from Iraqi cultural institutions.
A Prague court has sentenced a man to 4.5 years in prison for knowingly spreading a communicable disease. According to the court, Rudolf Novak, who is HIV positive, had unprotected sex with at least 10 partners over the course of two years, although he was aware of his condition. Mr Novak's lawyer said that none of his client's partners had been infected.
The Ostrava Regional Court has found a 23 year-old Czech woman guilty of dealing in heroin and has sentenced her to eight years in prison. Her twelve Vietnamese accomplices are to be expelled and face jail sentences between nine and ten years. Two of Vietnamese nationals were staying in the Czech Republic illegally. Police say the heroin sold by the gang would have been worth close to two million crowns (some 66,500 euros) on the black market.
Czech President Vaclav Klaus has signed the state budget law for 2005. The
law envisages a deficit of 84 billion Czech crowns. However, opposition
parties and most economists say the deficit will be much higher, over 100
billion crowns, once the state has covered the losses of the Czech bailout
agency, Ceska Konsolidacni Agentura, which primarily ensures the
privatisation of state-owned companies.
Mr Klaus also signed an amendment to the income tax law on Wednesday. The new law introduces tax relief for families with children, joint taxation of married couples, and faster depreciation of assets for businesses. The government says it would help families and companies save tens of billions of crowns in the coming years.
Czech breweries expect to export a record 2.4 million hectolitres of beer this year. The Chairman of the Czech Beer and Malt Association, Jan Vesely, said on Wednesday this would be up by 12 per cent from 2003, adding that breweries are preparing a campaign to promote their beer abroad. Germany, Slovakia, Great Britain and the USA, are the main importers of Czech beer. On average, exports rise by between five and twenty percent year- on-year.