Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda has dismissed claims that the Czech
Republic has been interfering with Belarusian internal affairs. The
Belarusian authorities say Czech diplomats in Minsk are purposefully
causing unrest, ahead of the presidential elections, with the
distribution of opposition leaflets. Bilateral relations have been
strained, as the Czech Republic criticises the former Soviet country's
President Alexander Lukashenko of violating human rights. Speaking at a
Prague conference on Belarus on Thursday, Mr Svoboda said the document
that Czech diplomats are handing out is a UN Human Rights Commission
report on Belarus.
Among those who attended the conference on Thursday were the President of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly Rene van der Linden, Slovak Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan, and Belarusian oppision member and presidential candidate Aleksander Milinkievich.
Prague's annual trade fair on tourism, Holiday World, opened its doors to visitors on Thursday. Over seven hundred stands representing fifty countries are featured this year. At accompanying seminars, visitors are introduced to topics ranging from internet bookings to exotic holiday destinations. Organisers are expecting a similar turnout as last year when 50,000 visitors came to the show in one weekend. The trade fair comes to a close on Sunday.
Czech engine drivers are planning to go on strike to protest at a clause
in a new Labour Code, which was approved by the Lower House of Parliament
earlier this month. The Federation of Train Conductors announced on
Thursday that it will be joined by members of ten trade unions that
represent engine drivers across the country. The strike is scheduled for
The new Labour Code has yet to be approved by the Senate and signed by the President. The train conductors say a clause on collective bargaining is discriminating and unconstitutional because it allows employers to enter into agreement with the biggest trade union in the company, without consideration for the smaller ones.
Austria's Environment Ministry plans to host another conference in mid-March on the Czech Republic's Temelin nuclear power plant, which is located close to the Czech-Austrian border. The aim of the conference is to discuss ways in which nuclear-free Austria can limit the plant's operation. The Upper Austrian local government as well as anti-nuclear organisations have been waging an unsuccessful campaign against the power plant, ever since it was launched in 2001. Austria currently holds EU presidency and nuclear power opponents are hoping it will promote discussion on nuclear safety across Europe during its six-month term.
British rock musician John Cale plans to spend his 64th birthday in the Czech Republic. Mr Cale is a former member of the legendary Velvet Underground, which greatly influenced the underground scene in Communist Czechoslovakia. He will hold two concerts to celebrate the event; at Brno's Fleda cultural club on March 8 and Prague's Archa theatre on March 9 - the actual day of his birthday.
The supermarket chain Hypernova has withdrawn bottled water claiming to prevent bird flu, a spokeswoman said on Wednesday. The water called Fromin Aktimun, made by Czech company Aquamat, comes in orange, lemon and grapefruit flavour and its label says it acts as bird flu prevention. The water was on sale at two outlets of the Hypernova supermarket chain owned by Netherlands-based Ahold until Wednesday although it had been banned by the State Agriculture and Food Inspection Office in mid-January. Experts say the only effective prevention of bird flu is a vaccine against a particular virus and they described the marketing of the product as "misleading."
Czech Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek has called for the European Union to open a new debate on nuclear energy. Speaking at a NATO conference on energy security in Prague, Mr Paroubek said Europe must have a clear energy policy in the same way as it has an agricultural policy, and nuclear power should be a key part of it. He added that Austria, currently holding the EU presidency, has taken the lead in demanding a better defined European energy policy. Neighbouring Austria has been a staunch critic of the Czech Republic's newest nuclear plant, Temelin, located close to the Austrian border.
Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek has said he is going to ask the German Chancellor Angela Merkel to put pressure on local authorities in Germany regarding illegal exports of waste to the Czech Republic. Tonnes of rubbish have been imported from Germany into the Czech Republic in recent months as disposing of it in Germany is more costly for German firms. The Czech government said it is considering a ban on all imports of waste into the country. In the meantime there will be stricter border controls.
According to data supplied by the Ministry for Local Development, mortgage borrowing in the Czech Republic reached 72.7 billion crowns (3 billion dollars) last year, some 37 percent more than in 2004, with a total of over 51,000 new contracts. The average sum borrowed last year was more than 1.4 million crowns (58,000 dollars). A further increase is expected in 2006.
Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek also told journalists that talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who starts an official visit to Prague on March 1, will include negotiations on a new long-term agreement for Russia's Gazprom to supply the Czech Republic with natural gas. The current contract expires in 2013. The Czech Republic relies on Russian gas for about two-thirds of its supplies, most of the rest coming from Norway.
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