For the first time ever, Czechs will be sending their own elected representatives to the European Parliament. Czechs were the first of the 10 new EU member states to vote in the elections with polling stations opening at 2 pm on Friday throughout the Czech Republic and closing at 10 in the evening. The voting is to continue on Saturday, with the polling stations opening at 8 in the morning and closing at 2 in the afternoon. The final surveys released before voting got underway on Friday suggested that about 30-40 percent of the 8 million-plus Czechs who are eligible to vote were likely to do so. Over 730 people are in the running for the 24 seats allotted to the Czech Republic in the European Parliament, representing 31 different political parties and groupings.
The police have brought criminal charges against Jan Karas, the doctor who on Monday drove his car into a two-year-old girl and her mother. The accident occurred on the grounds of Prague's Vinohrady teaching hospital, where Dr. Karas held a high position. A deputy state prosecutor said that Dr. Karas had been charged with drunk driving and causing grievous bodily harm. The two-year-old girl, who suffered serious head injuries and damage to her internal organs, is being kept in hospital under anaesthesia, is due to undergo additional surgery next week.
A tornado hit the Moravian district of Olomouc on Wednesday afternoon, killing one man and causing damage worth tens of millions of crowns. The man was killed when a tree fell on his car. The tornado tore away roofs and knocked down dozens of trees. Also many houses were flooded after intensive rain in the region. Meteorologists say that several tornadoes occur every year in the Czech Republic.
Another suspected case of BSE or mad cow disease has been reported on a farm near the east Bohemian town of Trutnov. The four-year old cow first showed symptoms of BSE in May. Further tests have yet to confirm whether the animal really suffered from mad cow disease. So far, eleven cases of BSE have been confirmed in the Czech Republic, the first one in 2001.
The Czech Republic has reopened its embassy to North Korea. The mission is headed by charge d'affairs Miroslav Podhajsky. On Wednesday, the embassy started distributing humanitarian aid that the Czech Republic had sent following the tragic railway accident in North Korea earlier this year that killed 170 people. North Korean authorities first expressed interest in the reopening of the Czech embassy last year. The Czechoslovak embassy to Pyongyang was closed in the early 1990s.
The State Authority for Nuclear Safety has said it will complain about the European Commission's steps in checking Sunday's defect at the Temelin nuclear power plant. Experts from the Commission arrived unexpectedly at Temelin on Wednesday to inspect the scene of the accident in which 3,000 litres of radioactive water leaked out of the primary circuit of the power plant's second unit. The head of the State Authority for Nuclear Safety, Dana Drabova, said the European Commission had never dealt with such an "unimportant" defect, adding that in her opinion the inspectors had come for political reasons. After their visit to Temelin, the EC experts said they had no reason to doubt the State Authority's statement that the accident was unimportant.
The government has approved the lease of 14 Gripen fighter jets from Sweden for ten years at a cost of around 20 billion crowns. The leasing contracts will also include offset programmes of Swedish investment into the Czech economy. The fighters will replace the aging Czech fleet of MiG-21 planes, which must be decommissioned by the end of 2004. The government chose the Gripens over a Belgian offer of updated F-16 fighters and similar planes from the Netherlands. Canada offered F/A-18 fighters and the United States offered an older variant of F-16s. Although Sweden is not a NATO member, the British-Swedish maker of the planes says the Gripens are fully compatible with the alliance's air forces.
The largest Czech lorry maker, Tatra, has signed a 6 million-dollar contract to supply 62 lorries to the Iraqi government. Tatra, whose participation in the tender was sheltered by its parent Terex Corporation, must supply the first six lorries to Iraq by November. Tatra board member Ronald Adams said the company had beaten U.S., German and Ukrainian rivals. The Czech Foreign Ministry has said Tatra's success could open the way to the Iraqi market for other Czech companies. Besides support from the Czech government, Tatra probably also benefited from the fact that it has an American owner. Only two Czech companies besides Tatra have managed to win contracts in Iraq to date.
The Czech Republic has fielded a record number of candidates for the upcoming elections to the European Parliament. A total of 31 Czech parties and movements will compete in the June 11-12 elections — far more than any other EU member state apart from Spain, the daily Hospodarske noviny reports. Whereas Spain has a long tradition of fielding regional candidates, the Czech field is exceptionally wide due to the low cost of registering a political entity, which is 15,000 crowns (about 500 euros). In Slovakia, registration costs three times as much and only 17 parties will vie for seats in the European Parliament; in Austria, the deposit is equivalent to 119,000 crowns, and only six parties are running, the paper notes.