There was good news for the Czech economy on Friday, when figures were released showing that 2004 saw the lowest foreign trade deficit since 1993. Both imports and exports increased last year after the Czech Republic joined the European Union, with exports rising particularly sharply. The industry and trade minister, Milan Urban, said in terms of euros per capita, the Czech Republic's foreign trade results exceeded those of countries like Spain and Greece, and were on the same level as the United Kingdom.
The director of the Bambini di Praga girls choir, Bohumil Kulinsky, is to remain in custody for another three months, after a Prague court accepted the argument of a prosecutor that he might try to influence witnesses. Mr Kulinsky is charged with sexually abusing 25 members of the choir, with the oldest accusations dating back to 1984.
Bank charges are higher in the Czech Republic than in Germany and Austria, where salaries are up to five times higher, the daily Pravo reported on Friday. For instance, banks in the Czech Republic charge fees for withdrawing money from ATM machines, a service which is free in Germany and Austria. Furthermore, interest on current accounts is higher in those countries, while interest on overdrafts is lower.
The Czech men's tennis number one, Jiri Novak, has reached the quarter-finals of the Millennium International Championships in Raleigh, North Carolina, after beating Germany's Philipp Kohlschreiber in two sets on Friday. It is Novak's first tournament of the season; the 29-year-old took January off to spend time with his family.
The controversy surrounding the question of how Prime Minister Stanislav Gross financed the purchase of his flat has taken a new turn: businessman Rostislav Rod said on Friday he lent money to Mr Gross's uncle, who in turn lent some of it to the prime minister. Mr Gross's uncle previously said he had borrowed the money from relatives living outside the Czech Republic. The prime minister has come under mounting pressure from the opposition and media to explain how he bought his luxury Prague flat, which cost more than he had officially earned.
The head of the Prague-West District Court has been dismissed, after a child custody case she was in charge of dragged on for 13 years. Judge Marie Drahokoupilova failed to order a mother to grant her former husband access to their son, despite the father winning a ruling to that effect. The judge said she was not guilty of any wrongdoing, and was considering suing the Justice Ministry.
President Vaclav Klaus has signed a law restricting the movement of some unsuccessful asylum seekers in the Czech Republic. The law prevents foreigners whose application for Czech asylum has been rejected from leaving the refugee facility for some time until they are transported to a facility in another EU country which can assess their asylum application. These asylum seekers will be allowed to leave the refugee centre only in clearly specified cases, as, for instance to see a doctor or arrange documents for their asylum application. A group of Senators object that the law is at variance with the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, and they are planning to turn to the Constitutional court in this respect.
European Parliament members from Eastern Europe are calling for a ban on communist symbols such as the hammer and sickle if the European Union decides to outlaw Nazi symbols, such as the swastika. Lawmakers from the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania and Slovakia said that any such ban should also cover communist symbols because of the killings and torture suffered by people in the former Soviet Union and the countries of the Eastern Bloc. The deputies wrote to the EU's Justice, Freedom and Security Commissioner Franco Frattini to press their demand.
The Czech branch of the garden tools company Mountfield has decided to withdraw a TV commercial featuring a miserly orthodox Jew after Israel's ambassador to the Czech Republic complained it promoted anti-Semitism. The commercial for a sale at Mountfield's stores featured an orthodox Jew happily rubbing his hands together at the announcement of price reductions. The company defended itself saying the commercial promoting their radical price reductions featured a prudent shopper. The commercial will be taken off the air from February 7. The advertisement had been screened on all four of the country's terrestrial television channels since January.
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