Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg has said that the first round of negotiations with the United States on the stationing of a radar base in the military area of Brdy southwest of Prague will take place in Prague on May 11. Speaking in the lower house of parliament, Minister Schwarzenberg added the facility will boost the Czech Republic's security. The deputy chairman of the lower house, Lubomir Zaoralek, said the talks on the radar base were hasty and the government was, on the contrary, compromising the country's security by its policy. Mr Zaoralek also said it would not be correct if the Czech Republic signed a bilateral agreement on the base with the USA. Mr Schwarzenberg maintains that it is one of the government's demands that the US radar base be part of NATO's defence system in the future.
The lower house might start discussing the government-proposed tax reform package in June and vote on it at an extraordinary session during the summer break, a Finance Ministry spokesman said on Thursday. The cabinet intends to submit the reform bills to parliament as a package and would like to see them take effect in January 2008. A vote on the reform plan will effectively decide on the future of the government which had pledged to step down if it fails to push the reforms through. The reform package is also expected to have a crucial impact on the 2008 state budget as it will determine the level of state revenues and expenditures in the coming year. The governing coalition has no guaranteed majority in the lower house: it has exactly 100 MPs in the 200-seat chamber.
The Aktualne.cz news server writes that the Czech government on Monday decided on extensive cuts in the state budget for the next three years on top of approving a package of tax reforms. According to the server, the government decided to cut by a quarter the budget spending on motorway construction, approved a freeze on spending in almost all budget areas, set down strict limits on pension increases and healthcare subsidies as well as spending on research. Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek however told the CTK news agency that the document approved on Monday is not a final version.
Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek has said a joint Czech-Austrian inter-parliamentary committee which is supposed to oversee the safety of the Temelin nuclear power station could help tackle the problem of frequent blockades of the Czech-Austrian border crossings by anti-Temelin protesters. The Czech part of the committee is supposed have thirteen members: ten MPs and three Senators, and according to Senate chairman Premysl Sobotka it could start work in one to two months time. The formation of the committee, agreed on by Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek and Austrian Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer in February, is being criticised by Austrian anti-Temelin activists who describe it as a "delaying manoeuvre".
The Pravo daily writes that Christian Democrat leader and Deputy Prime Minister Jiri Cunek enjoys the support of small far-right parties. The paper says they appreciate his performance in top-level politics and support his statements regarding the Czech Roma population. Pravo quotes far-right activist Jan Kopal as saying he supports Mr Cunek for his outspoken manner and uncompromising actions. Jiri Petrivalsky of the ultranationalist National Corporativism association told Pravo that Mr Cunek is not afraid to voice the opinion of the majority population.
Most recently, Mr Cunek made a comment about the Roma in last Friday's edition of the tabloid Blesk. When asked whether other people should receive state subsidies like Romanies, Mr Cunek said they would need to get a suntan, behave in a disorderly way and light fires on town squares before politicians would regard them as badly off.
In related news, the daily Pravo also writes that Civic Democrat Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek has accused his deputy and Christian Democrat chairman Jiri Cunek and Education Minister Dana Kuchtova of the Green Party of destabilising the coalition government. Mr Topolanek reportedly made the statement at last weekend's meeting of the Civic Democrat leadership where he also reportedly said the cabinet was polarised. Pravo writes that Mr Topolanek wants to sack Mr Cunek from government regardless of the outcome of Wednesday's conference of the Christian Democratic Party which decided to back its leader.
A national conference of the Christian Democratic Party on Wednesday issued a recommendation to Christian Democrat MPs to support the government's proposed tax and social reform package. Although party deputies are not unanimous on the issue, Christian Democrat chairman Jiri Cunek and his party colleague Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek say they have no doubts as to the unanimous approval of the reforms by their parliamentary party.
Meanwhile, the opposition Social Democrats and the Communists have ruled out support for the government's financial reform package. The two parties say the package, which aims to slash taxes and public spending, only benefits the wealthy.
An amendment to the Penal Code proposes tougher sentences for corruption in the public sector. The amendment increases the maximum sentence for taking a bribe from eight to 12 years and raises the sentence for offering a bribe from one to two years. Justice Minister Jiri Pospisil said on Thursday the government is to debate the new legislation in the months to come, and the law should take effect as of next year. The law will also ban officials convicted of corruption from working in public posts, Mr Pospisil added. The amendment is based on a long-term programme approved by the government last October. It also includes the establishment of special courts and anti-corruption agents as well as a special phone line for reporting suspicions of bribery and gaining advice from the Transparency International anti-corruption watchdog.
Lidove noviny writes that Czech noble families will protest to Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek about a special police unit created specifically to stop them reclaiming property taken after World War II or by the former communist regime. The 30-strong "Majetek" (or property) unit was established by the former Social Democrat-dominated government in 2004 to try to disprove their restitution claims. The foreign intelligence services helped with the task, the daily Lidove Noviny said. The protest letter has already been signed by one of the main ongoing claimants to a swathe of estates and property, Frantisek Oldrich Kinsky, with 10 of the country's best known noble families promising to join the action. Police bugged Mr Kinsky's lawyer's mobile and office phone and tried to intimidate him by claiming he had withheld evidence connected with his client's restitution claims, it added.
State attorneys have halted the prosecution of businessman Tomas Pitr and Michal Zouhar, chairman of board at the food and chemicals company Setuza, a spokesman for the Prague State Attorney's Office said on Thursday. The prosecutors rejected the police proposal to charge both men with abuse of information in business transactions in a case connected with Setuza. The men were suspected of causing 750 million crowns worth of damage, and if found guilty, they would have faced up to 12 years in prison.
Mr Pitr has already been convicted in another case. He was sentenced to five years in prison for tax evasion but has not yet started serving his sentence.
We can expect sunny skies in the next couple of days with daytime highs between 13 and 16 degrees Celsius.