The Prague City Hall plans to double the number of controls it conducts to ensure that taxi drivers aren't violating regulations and ripping off clients. Prague Mayor Pavel Bem said on Wednesday that the number of controls should increase substantially to reach some 140 this month. Last month, Mr Bem, disguised as a tourist, was charged six times above the normal rate by a Prague taxi driver.
The Cabinet has decided to lower the minimum wage to motivate people into preferring lower paid jobs to unemployment benefits. The minimum monthly wage, which currently stands at 4,300 Czech crowns (some 180 US dollars), is to be reduced to 2,870 crowns (120 US dollars). If approved by Parliament and signed by the President, the new minimum could be introduced as early as January 2006.
The founder of the Microsoft Corporation, U.S. billionaire Bill Gates, met with Czech President Vaclav Klaus at Prague Castle on Wednesday. While the topics of discussion have not been disclosed, Mr Klaus says it was only a friendly gathering. Mr Gates is visiting Prague to introduce the EuroScience initiative to some five hundred government representatives and public officials at the Government Leaders Forum. Under the initiative, Mr Gates plans to speed up European innovation in the areas of science and information technology.
President Vaclav Klaus has asked the Czech Constitutional Court to
evaluate whether the European Constitution complies with the Czech
constitution. Mr Klaus on Wednesday wrote a letter to the Chairman of the
Court, Pavel Rychetsky, asking whether the ratification of the EU
constitution ought to be preceded by amendments to the Czech constitution.
President Klaus has been keen to warn Czech citizens of the implications of ratifying the European Constitution, saying it would limit the sovereignty of individual EU member states, especially smaller countries like the Czech Republic. The constitution has also been criticised by the centre-right opposition Civic Democrat and Communist parties.
The opposition right-of-centre Civic Democrats have asked Prime Minister Stanislav Gross to explain to Parliament where he got the money to buy his Prague flat. The call comes after Czech media reports that called into question Mr Gross' ability to have paid for the flat on his official salary. The prime minister recently disclosed a net income of the past few years that he said proved he could afford the flat, but was criticised for including various allowances which parliamentarians are allotted to cover expenses such as transport and meals.
Jiri Belohlavek will replace Leonard Sladkin as chief conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra. He will take up the position in mid 2006. Jiri Belohlavek is a leading figure among Czech conductors. His career has led from a regular engagement with the Brno State Philharmonic, via the position of chief conductor of the Prague Symphony Orchestra and long years of collaboration with the Czech Philharmonic. He has made regular appearances as guest conductor with outstanding symphonic ensembles all over the world, such as the New York Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony, the Berlin Philharmonic and the London Symphony.
A Czech court of appeal has sent the former finance minister Ivo Svoboda and his close aide Barbora Snopkova to five years in prison for fraud. They were found guilty of having unlawfully transferred 6.5 million crowns to their own private companies from the now bankrupt pram manufacturer Liberta while they were on its board of directors. Svoboda is the first former cabinet minister to be served a prison sentence since the fall of communism.
The Czech Foreign Ministry has urged the release of an Azeri national who has been granted political asylum in the Czech Republic. Professor Sadai Nazarov, an aide to the former Azeri prime minister Sarat Huseynov, fled to the Czech Republic in the mid 1990's after the regime of president Heydar Aliyev accused Huseynov of planning a coup. He was granted political asylum three years later. Nazarov was arrested in Azerbaijan several days ago on a visit to his homeland. The Czech Foreign Ministry has called for "a humanitarian approach and a speedy resolution to the case", stressing that Nazarov is under the Czech Republic's protection.
The United States has criticized the Czech military for buying an artillery radar and a mobile anti-aircraft missile complex without a tender. According to the daily Hospodarske Noviny the US embassy in Prague sent the Czech Defence Ministry a letter expressing concern about the purchases. A Defence Ministry spokesperson said the purchases had been made without a tender since the law on public orders did not require one. The choice was reportedly made on the recommendation of a team of experts.
Transparency International has called on the Czech Prime Minister Stanislav Gross to explain how he paid for his luxury flat in Prague. Recently the Czech daily Mlada Fronta Dnes pointed out that Mr. Gross could not have purchased his luxury home from his own or his wife's income and urged the Prime Minister to say where he'd got the money. Despite considerable pressure from the media the Prime Minister has refused to disclose the source of his finances. Transparency said the open questions and speculation surrounding the case were damaging the whole Cabinet and adding to the perception of the Czech Republic as a country with a high rate of corruption.
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