The Czech Finance Minister, Social Democrat Bohuslav Sobotka, has issued a more optimistic forecast for the country's economy in 2005, predicting growth of 3.8 percent over earlier forecasts of 3.6 percent. A cut in taxes paid by lower and middle-earning groups planned by the ruling Social Democrat party should drive the economy's growth, Mr Sobotka told journalists. The central bank, Czech National Bank, predicts that the Czech economy will grow by 3.2 to 4.4 percent.
The mobile phone operator T-Mobile attracted the highest number of new clients last year, while Oskar Mobil saw the lowest increase in client numbers, the companies said. T-Mobile raised the number by 410,000, Eurotel by 380,000 and Oskar by 280,000 users. At the end of last year, there were 10.78 million active mobile phones on the Czech market. In the last quarter alone, when operators launched massive pre-Christmas campaigns, the operators lured some half a million new clients. At the end of last year, there were nearly 106 mobile phones per 100 people. Experts say that despite that, there is quite a large group of people without a mobile phone. Some 15 to 20 percent of users have more mobile phones than just one.
A Czech delegation joined world leaders and Holocaust survivors gathered in the Polish town of Auschwitz on Thursday to pay homage to the memory of millions of Holocaust victims on Holocaust Memorial Day. In the Czech Republic, among other special events, a plaque dedicated to people who helped save Czechoslovak Jews from the death camps has been unveiled at Prague's Pinkas Synagogue. It bears the names of the 160 people who saved around 200 Jewish children during the war. Some 80,000 Czechoslovak Jews perished in the Holocaust.
The central bank has unexpectedly cut interest rates by a quarter of a percentage point, with the key repo rate down at 2.25 percent as of Friday. According to analysts, the reason for the decision was a new inflation forecast revised downwards and a stricter monetary policy due to the strong crown. The crown reaction came immediately, with a fall by 20 hellers to the euro to 30.25 crowns to the euro. Tied to the repo rate of the central bank are interest rates on bank deposits and loans.
The Cabinet has approved a bill limiting the number of benefits enjoyed by deputies and senators. If approved by both houses of Parliament, the bill would strip deputies and senators of certain advantages such as free plane tickets for trips around the Czech Republic, free petrol cards and generous travel allowances on trips abroad. By cutting these perks Parliament would save about 4 million crowns a year. The head of the governing Christian Democratic Party who presented the proposal, said that maintaining these benefits in the face of cuts in public spending would be immoral and inexcusable.
The government has moved to prevent abuse of the country's asylum system. In a draft amendment to the asylum law it proposes ways of facilitating the work of the courts and speeding up the asylum process. The bill would also shorten the time period during which the courts must deal with appeals and complaints. At present many asylum seekers are intentionally procrastinating, filing complaints and repeatedly appealing the court's decision in order to buy more time, or even a chance to make an illegal crossing to a neighbouring state. In the course of that time the state has to cover the cost of accommodation, food, health care and pocket money for each applicant.
A plaque dedicated to people who helped save Czechoslovak Jews from the Holocaust will be unveiled at Prague's Pinkas synagogue on Thursday. The plaque will be unveiled by the Prague Jewish Community and the Hidden Child Foundation and will bear the names of 160 people who saved around 200 Jewish children during the war. Some 80,000 Czechoslovak Jews perished in the Holocaust.
The Constitutional Court has ruled that the Senate elections in the Prague 11 constituency are valid and confirmed the victory of Jan Nadvornik of the Civic Democratic Party. The Constitutional Court thus overturned the ruling of the Supreme Court which earlier invalidated the outcome of the elections in Prague 11 on the grounds that the election campaign had been conducted in a dishonest manner, in violation of the election law. This was in reference to a number of slanderous articles against the unsuccessful candidate which appeared in the local papers. Political observers say the Constitutional Court's ruling has set an important precedent.
The Czech Republic intends to close down some of its embassies and consulates abroad due to planned cuts in public spending. The decision was also made in view of the fact that after the country's entry to the European Union in May of last year, Czech interests are protected as part of the EU common policy. According to an unnamed source from the foreign ministry this cost-cutting measure should affect eight embassies in Africa and South America. The Czech consulate in neighbouring Slovakia will also be closed down.
The Austrian Ambassador to the Czech Republic Klas Daublebsky, who is nearing the end of his term in Prague was received at Prague Castle by President Vaclav Klaus on Wednesday. Ambassador Daublesky leaves Prague in mid-February and will be replaced by Margot Klestil-Loeffler, the widow of the former Austrian president Thomas Klestil.
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