The Czech Commission for the privatisation of fixed-line operator Czech telecom has "okayed" the entry of France Telecom into the government tender. Several firms are now vying to bid for the state's 51 percent majority share including the firms Blackstone, CVC, and Providence. At the same time the commission acknowledged withdrawal by the consortium of PPF, J&T, InWay and Tiscali, which had bid an estimated 71.3 billion crowns, or approximately 3 billion U.S. dollars. The withdrawal is otherwise not expected to have a wider negative impact on the tender - given the entry of France Telecom.
An agreement by the country's ruling coalition parties to try and diffuse an on-going government crisis has been criticised by president Vaclav Klaus, who says the agreement reached does not go far enough. Mr Klaus had called for greater guarantees by the government to ensure stability for the rest of its term, but called its current steps "half-hearted", only postponing the problem. In the president's view the coalition will remain on the brink of breaking up for several weeks. The government crisis erupted last month when a major Czech daily questioned the financing behind Prime Minister Stanislav Gross' luxury flat. Business dealings by the prime minister's wife have also come under scrutiny.
Czech arms manufacturer Arms Moravia appears to have exported arms to Congo, despite an international embargo, Thursday's edition of Hospodarske noviny reported. It says another company, Ceska zbrojovka Uhersky Brod attempted to illegally export over five thousand sub-machine guns to the country in the year 2000. The paper says former foreign minister Jan Kavan okayed the latter deal, despite having been made aware of the embargo.
The opposition Communists say they are ready to start negotiations about their support for a Social Democrat minority government. In exchange for their support, the Communists would require a change in the Social Democrats' policy. That scenario is one of several possible resolutions of the current coalition crisis, which broke out over Prime Minister Gross's property affairs in mid-February.
The consortium of firms PPF, J&T, InWay and Tiscali has pulled out from a tender for a state-held stake in Cesky Telecom, a PPF spokeswoman said without giving any reasons. The consortium allegedly offered the highest preliminary bid of 71.3 billion crowns. Still in play for the majority stake in Cesky Telecom are France Telecom with the consortium Blackstone/CVC/Provident and telecoms operators Swisscom, Belgacom and Telefonica.
The Supreme Court has ruled that the Prague High Court should hear the case of former Foreign Ministry general secretary Karel Srba again. The court upheld the recourse filed by the Supreme State Attorney who considered an eight-year sentence for Mr Srba too lenient. Mr Srba is serving a prison sentence for involvement in the preparation of the planned contract killing of an investigative journalist who in her articles pointed to his dubious financial practices at the Foreign Ministry.
The Prime Minister Stanislav Gross said the Social Democrats were ready to
continue in the current three-party coalition government. Speaking after
Thursday's coalition meeting, Mr Gross also said he was prepared to
publicly apologise to everyone who, as he said, could have been offended
by his earlier statements regarding his flat financing scandal. The
Christian Democrat Chairman Miroslav Kalousek said his party would not
call on the Prime Minister to resign before the Social Democrat party
congress at Easter. He said it was up to the Social Democrats to resolve
the Prime Minister's scandal themselves.
The Christian Democrats originally called on the prime minister to step down, while many Social Democrats demanded that three Christian Democrats ministers be dismissed from the cabinet. On Wednesday Prime Minister Gross said he will step down if he does not receive the strong backing of the Social Democrats at Saturday's party meeting. Mr Gross has been under pressure for some weeks over his family's private finance, with the affair threatening to bring down the governing coalition.
The Finance Minister Bohuslav Sobotka has said the costs of the Czech economic transformation between the year 1990 and 2004 exceeded 600 billion crowns (26 billion dollars), with most of the money going to bank and company revitalisation. Further dozens of billions of crowns were paid in support to municipalities and regions, Mr Sobotka said.
The Czech Republic is preparing for a battle against a flu pandemic. The cabinet has approved a health ministry proposal to buy medication worth 290 million Czech crowns (a little under 13 million US dollars) that reduces flu symptoms. The last flu pandemic broke out in 1968. Since it would take three months to prepare a vaccine if it were to break out today, the government plans to give the medication Tamiflu to some 1.8 million citizens - children, the elderly, diabetics, or chronic, heart or oncology patients as well as citizens needed to run the state like police officers, fire fighters, and health care workers, for example.