A special decontamination unit has launched a clean-up operation at the dioxin contaminated Spolana factory on the river Elbe, some 20 kilometres north of Prague. Altogether around 35,000 tons of dangerous waste will be dug up and treated at an on-site heat plant. The remaining waste will be incinerated. Dioxin dust is one of the site's most toxic pollutants, able to cause cancer and genetic and immunity system disorders. A team of 160 people are working on the site, which is considered so dangerous that only people in full protective clothing from head to foot are allowed in the security zone.
The Czech Republic on Tuesday opposed Austria's compromise proposal on new VAT rates for the 25 countries of the EU. Prague together with Warsaw remain critical of the deal because they are eager to extend exemptions on VAT rules that were given to them when they joined the EU in 2004. Hungary and the Baltic states have said they are ready to accept the compromise solution. Like all issues regarding tax harmonization in the EU, the list of exemptions from normal minimum VAT rates must be unanimously approved by all member states.
Five heated army tents have been erected on Prague's Letna Plain to give homeless people temporary shelter in the current freezing weather. The cold has already killed 16 people in the Czech Republic. Asylum centres are overflowing and an estimated 100 to 200 people are still out in the cold. The tent-town for the homeless will provide shelter for over 100 people as well as a hot meal for anyone who turns up. It will remain in place for as long as necessary.
Pharmacists have called a demonstration outside the health ministry on Thursday to protest a newly introduced measure which they say will threaten their livelihood. The lowering of their profit margin by three percent as of January 1st of this year has cut pharmacies profits by up to 15 percent. The pharmacists' association claims that a quarter of all pharmacies in the Czech Republic, in particular those in small towns and villages, are threatened with bankruptcy as a result. The new measure is part of a package of cost-cutting measures introduced by health minister David Rath.
The European council for economics and finance has approved the Czech Republic's convergence programme, which is to pave the way for the adoption of the euro in 2010. The council has advised the Czech government to speed up the planned pension reform and to use the period of economic growth to cut back on the deficit in public spending.
A Prague district prosecutor has said he is shelving a probe into the former prime minister Stanislav Gross' private finances. Prosecutor Julius Lachnit said no new facts or evidence had come to light which would justify further investigation. Gross resigned as prime minister last year after coming under media pressure to explain where he obtained the money to buy his luxury apartment in Prague.
The Czech national rail operator Ceske drahy has said it would ask Italy's Alstom for nearly 700,000 US dollars in compensation for having delivered faulty high-speed trains. At present, only one of the seven Pendolino trains supplied by the Italian company is in operation. Four were taken out of service due to technical problems and a fifth is undergoing testing.
The German automaker Volkswagen has hired two independent ombudsmen charged with rooting out corruption. The move is seen as a direct response to a fraud and bribery scandal last year involving a high-ranking official at Volkswagen's Czech daughter company, Skoda Auto. The official, a German high flyer who was seconded to Skoda as director of labour affairs, along with a senior personnel manager in Wolfsburg, were alleged to have set up fake companies in the Czech Republic, India and elsewhere to defraud local authorities seeking business with Volkswagen.
Final talks with the South Korean automaker Hyundai over the location of its new car plant should be completed on Thursday. A Hyundai delegation arrived in the Czech Republic at the weekend. Baring last-minute surprises, the carmaker is expected to build its new 1.2 billion dollar plant in Ostrava. The main topic of discussion is what investment incentives the Czech government is willing to extend to parts suppliers for Hyundai. The Czech Minister of Industry and Trade, Milan Urban, has said the deal could be officially sealed by mid February.
Severe cold caused a failure at the Temelin nuclear power plant Sunday night, forcing the plant to partly disconnect from the electricity grid for five hours. The temperature at Temelin, in southern Bohemia, fell to around minus 20 degrees Celsius, and the cold affected a sensor that automatically triggered a power reduction, a Temelin spokesman said. Temperatures reached minus 30 degrees elsewhere in the Czech Republic and the cold was blamed for the death of two homeless men.