Defence Minister Karel Kuehnl will sign a contract on the supply of 200 armoured personnel carriers with the Austrian armament maker Steyr on Friday, the ministry announced on Thursday. The deal will cost the state a record 24 billion crowns (over 1 billion dollars). The military is expected to receive the first vehicles at the end of next year. They will replace the obsolete Ot-64s, most of which are out of service.
The deputy leader of the Social Democrats, Bohuslav Sobotka, has said that his party will seek to occupy the position of chairman of the lower house. Mr. Sobotka says that the Social Democrats are not considering this as part of any post-election negotiations, but rather that a member of the Social Democrats should naturally occupy the post because the party won the second largest number of seats in the recent elections. Mr. Sobotka denies that his party would exchange this post for the support of the incoming government coalition.
The OECD has also said that the Czech economy will continue to grow and the country is on track to join the eurozone by 2010 but it must not neglect fiscal and pension reforms. The organisation presented an economic survey of the country on Thursday which said the budget and overall deficit was kept in check last year owing to stronger than expected revenues on the back of economic growth of 6 percent in 2005 and deferred spending. But the report says real steps have not been taken to tackle the overall level of government spending.
Czech participants in the Battle of Britain and other war veterans have commemorated the 65th anniversary of the legendary battle in which the Royal Air Force prevented a German invasion of Britain. Some of the Czechoslovak pilots, fighting with RAF, remained in Britain after the war for political reasons. Some 2,500 Czechoslovak citizens took part in the Battle of Britain, including 1,450 pilots, and nearly 500 of them were killed. At present, only a few dozen Czech participants are still alive, their average age being 86. One of the most famous Czech pilots who fought in England Frantisek Perina died a month ago, aged 95.
The prime minister has also reiterated that his Social Democrats will not back a government of the Civic Democrats, the Christian Democrats and the Green Party. After meeting President Vaclav Klaus on Thursday, Prime Minister Paroubek also said that a grand coalition was currently not an option. Coalition talks are now underway, led by Civic Democrat chairman Mirek Topolanek. A coalition of the Civic Democrats, the Christian Democrats and the Greens would only have 100 seats in the 200-seat lower house. The new chamber is expected to meet for the first time on June 27th.
Czech tennis player Nicole Vaidisova has been beaten in the semi-finals of the French Open by Svetlana Kuznetzova of Russia. After taking the first set Vaidisova seemed to lose her nerve towards the end of the second, eventually losing 5-7 7-6 6-2. The 17-year-old rising star had never previously reached the latter stages of a Grand Slam competition.
An OECD official has warned the Czech Republic of the risks involved in pushing through a 15-percent flat tax, one of the fundamental reforms proposed by the election-winning right-of-centre Civic Democrats. The head of the OECD's country studies division, Andreas Woergoetter, said the introduction of a 15-percent flat tax could cause a serious revenue shortfall and a flat tax of such an extent would make it necessary to look for savings in other areas. If these savings were not found, he said, fiscal policy could be derailed. One of the Civic Democrats' key policies is a flat 15-percent level of income tax and VAT, renewed privatisations, shrinking the state sector and combating corruption.
President Vaclav Klaus has vetoed a bill on compensatory alimony paid by the state for children from single-parent low-income families in cases where one of the parents does not fulfil this duty, a spokesperson for the president said on Thursday. Mr Klaus argues that the bill supports parents' lack of responsibility for their children. The Social Democrats and the Communists have criticised his decision.
Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek has apologised for a controversial speech he made on Saturday evening questioning the result of the general election in which his Social Democrats came second. At a news conference on Thursday, Mr Paroubek said that while the subject of his speech was rational, the means of expression he used were wrong. Mr Paroubek also called his emotional speech "the first serious mistake he had made in his 13 months in office". In his Saturday speech, Prime Minister Paroubek accused a number of Czech journalists of being mercenaries of the Civic Democratic Party and also likened the party's policies to the Communist takeover in 1948.
President Klaus will attend a European Union summit in Brussels next week and present the Czech position on the draft European constitution instead of the prime minister, the daily Lidove Noviny says in its Wednesday edition. The EU constitution will be one of the main topics discussed at the summit. Mr Klaus is strongly critical of the proposed constitution, and the prime minister has allegedly agreed to have the president replace him at the EU summit, since, as he said, Czechs had just elected "a Eurosceptical government".