The foreign ministers of the Visegrad Four and the Baltic states have agreed to join forces in an effort to achieve a visa-free regime for travelling to the United States. At the instigation of Czech Foreign Minister Alexandr Vondra they agreed in New York City on Thursday to form a "Coalition for Visa Equality" within which they will coordinate their steps. Of the newest EU member countries, only Slovenian citizens are exempt from visas when travelling to the United States. A new campaign targeting American citizens of Czech origin aims to gain their support to have visa requirements dropped for Czechs.
The struggling state-controlled Czech Airlines is asking its main shareholder, the finance ministry for a cash injection of about 2 billion crowns, company president Radomir Lasak said on Thursday denying speculation that Czech Airlines is on the verge of bankruptcy. According to Transport Minister Ales Rebicek, the government will now examine whether such a step would be possible without EU consent. The insurance company Ceska Pojistovna has expressed interest in a recapitalisation of CSA on condition that it can exert some influence on the carrier, spokesman Vaclav Balek said on Thursday. The airline lost 800 million crowns (28.1 million euros, 35.7 million dollars) in the first half of the year.
The opposition Social Democrats have said they will convoke an extraordinary lower house session at which the Civic Democrats should provide evidence for their statements that the Social Democrats and their leader Jiri Paroubek are connected with police wiretapping of politicians and journalists. Mr Paroubek said on Thursday that unless the Civic Democrat leaders submit evidence, they should resign. The Civic Democrats suspect the previous government of Prime Minister Paroubek of abusing wiretappings to spy on political opponents and inconvenient journalists. Interior Minister Ivan Langer said on Wednesday that about 20 constitutional officials and journalists were wiretapped as part of the investigation into the leak of a police report by a senior officer just before the June election.
A poll released on Thursday suggests that support for the ruling right-wing Civic Democrats has risen after months of a political stalemate which threatens to force an early election. The survey by the STEM agency predicted a centre-right bloc led by the Civic Democrats would win 109 seats in the lower house of parliament against 91 seats for the combined leftist Social Democrats and the far-left Communists. The poll confirmed some other public opinion research in the past months that showed a rise in popularity for the party which formed a minority cabinet earlier this month, but seems set to lose a confidence vote in early October.
A record 204 candidates are running for the 27 seats up for grabs in the upper house of the Czech Parliament, the Senate. The Czech Statistical Office which released the figure on Thursday says their average age is just below 54 and there are 40 women among the candidates which is the largest proportion so far. The first round of the election will take place on October 20th and 21st.
The Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs has said it has prepared a first draft of a pension reform bill. Minister Petr Necas told reporters on Thursday that the bill entails a foundation of a special pension fund, a continuing increase of retirement age and a cap on payments. He also said that the proposal needs to be discussed with other parties but work on a reform should start immediately owing to the aging of the Czech population. In the last election term, five major parties discussed a pension reform but with no result.
Social Democrat chairman Jiri Paroubek said on Thursday that he would reinstall Karel Randak in the post of civil intelligence service director, from which he was dismissed by the Civic Democrat government on Wednesday, if he was to become prime minister again. The Civic Democrat minority government replaced Mr Randak with the director of the civil counter-intelligence service (BIS) Jiri Lang and said that the reason for Mr Randak's dismissal was the planned merger of the two services. Government ministers are preparing to propose a plan for the revamped intelligence service by the end of October.
In its Wednesday session, the lower house approved a proposal by the new Minister of Labor and Social Affairs, Petr Necas, to raise pensions by an average of 500 crowns ($25 US) in 2007. The average monthly pension would thus rise from 8190 crowns to 8690 crowns. The same pension increase was already approved by the former Social Democratic government in August.
Masaryk University, located in the Moravian capital of Brno, has expanded classroom facilities to provide educational access to people with serious physical and mental disabilities. An agreement signed Wednesday between Masaryk University and IBM will make the increase in the university's student body possible, and open five new classrooms. IBM has agreed to provide technology and computer training in the amount of roughly 2.4 million crowns. Masaryk University decided to expand facilities for disabled students because the current number of students with disabilities registered totals 174, and numbers are expected to increase.