The Senate has definitively rejected a government proposed bill on referendum which would have enabled the public to have a say in fundamental decisions regarding domestic and foreign policy. Opponents of the bill said that it failed to clearly define what matters could be decided by referendum. Senators also pointed out that the proposed bill did not determine the minimal turnout for a referendum to be valid. Since this was a constitutional bill, the lower house cannot override the Senate's veto.
The lower house of Parliament on Friday approved the government proposed state budget for 2006. It envisages a deficit of 74,4 billion crowns, with expenditures at 958 billion and an income of 884 billion crowns. As expected the budget was approved with the votes of the three coalition parties. The opposition Civic Democratic Party opposed it while the Communists abstained from the vote.
Former prime minister Stanislav Gross has told a parliamentary commission he accepted no bribes in the 2004 sale of the Czech chemicals giant Unipetrol. Mr Gross also told the commission that businessman Andrej Babis in no way influenced the government in the sale. Allegations over improprieties in the sale of Unipetrol have been under investigation ever since a Polish lobbyist went public with videotape claiming a government aide had asked him for a five million crown bribe. The former prime minister and others flatly denied the corruption charges.
During talks with the British Prime Minister Tony Blair in Budapest, EU newcomer states on Friday signalled they were prepared to accept a small cut in the aid they receive from EU coffers in order to allow a breakthrough in the bloc's tough budget negotiations. The leaders of Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia said they could agree to a small cut if it was offset by easier access to funding. The newcomers first reacted with stiff opposition to Britain's proposal to cut regional aid but diplomats said that the talks in Budapest had been useful and some compromise ideas were beginning to gain currency. Britain is due to announce its detailed proposals on Monday.
Czech police have charged a 37-year-old representative of the Japanese investment bank Nomura with insider trading, in the so-called "Czech beer operation", in which the bank is said to have used shareholdings in the Plzensky Prazdroj brewery to support its investment in the now defunct Czech IPB bank. According to the anti-corruption office, bank funds were used to pay for the brewery's acquisition. The illegal use of property as 'insurance' then allegedly helped the investment bank illegally gain seven billion crowns, the equivalent of more than 280 million USD. If found guilty of insider dealings the bank official could face up to twelve years in prison.
A Central Bohemian court is considering whether or not to reopen the case of Rostislav Roztocil, a Czech convict recaptured in Germany after a brief prison break. The convict, found guilty of murdering an Egyptian student in Czechoslovakia in the 1980s, has maintained his innocence and has been asking for a retrial. The court is now looking to interview Mr Roztocil, as well as new witnesses, before ruling on whether or not to reopen his case.
The Health Minister David Rath has claimed that the chairman of the right-of-centre Civic Democrats, Mirek Topolanek, may have been involved in corruption. On Thursday the health minister suggested to journalists that an association founded by Mr Topolanek had received financial donations from a metal works company, with connections to private hospitals. They, Mr Rath said, had been given above-standard contracts with the state-owned insurance company, the VZP - now under forced administration. The Civic Democrats have denied the allegations and Civic Democrat chairman Mirek Topolanek is said to be considering legal action. Since taking office, the health minister and the Civic Democrats have clashed on several occasions, with the Civic Democrats calling on the health minister to resign.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz has reported on its website that a suspect wanted for a gangland-style attack in Prague will be extradited to the Czech Republic. A court in Jerusalem ruled in favour. The suspect, an immigrant from the former Soviet Union, is said to have tossed a grenade at the vehicle of an Israeli casino owner outside his Prague venue last August. The site was found in one of the city's busiest pedestrian zones and 18 passers-by were injured. The suspect was then arrested a month later in Israel on an international warrant; if found guilty he could face between eight to fifteen years in prison.
The Czech Trade Minister Milan Urban has said that the Czech Republic will
submit its own demands at negotiations on the EU budget outlook for
2007-13. On Thursday Mr Urban, in Brussels, said demands could include
asking for a longer period for the Czech Republic to draw EU funds. But,
he stressed that the Czech government was interested in EU member
countries reaching an overall consensus. In the coming days the British
presidency will submit its own draft budget for the EU, notable for cuts
made at the expense of the ten new EU member countries - including the
Czech Republic - that joined last year. As it stands, the proposed cuts
could mean a decrease of as much as 2 billion euros (around 2.3 billion US
dollars) for the Czech Republic. In exchange, British Prime Minister Tony
Blair is proposing easier terms for drawing funds.
The prime ministers of the Visegrad Group - the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, and Hungary, have already criticised Mr Blair's planned cuts.
The governing Social Democrats have agreed to introduce rent
deregulation at a faster tempo than previously planned, with rents set
to rise by an average of 14.2 percent a year. Rents will increase at
the beginning of January in the years 2007 to 2010.
The Social Democrats decided to quicken the pace of deregulation after holding talks with the two smaller parties in the coalition, the Christian Democrats and the Freedom Union.
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