Austrian President Heinz Fischer, on his first state visit to the Czech Republic as Austria's head of state, met with his Czech counterpart Vaclav Klaus at Prague Castle on Wednesday. Besides the European Union, the main topics discussed were the Benes decrees and the Temelin nuclear power plant in southern Bohemia - a thorn in the side of nuclear-free Austria. Although both presidents agreed to foster good relations, Mr Fischer noted he would welcome a reconciliatory gesture from the Czechs regarding the Benes decrees, which sanctioned the expulsion of some 2.5 million ethnic Germans from post-war Czechoslovakia and have been criticised by Austrians and Germans, who want the decrees to be revoked.
The new coalition government of Prime Minister Stanislav Gross has passed its first crucial test, receiving a vote of confidence late Tuesday, some 7 hours after deliberations began in the Chamber of Deputies. Throughout the day Parliament heard extensive speeches from MPs either for or against the government. The prime minister spoke at length about the goals of his cabinet, saying it would make social issues a priority. However, the opposition Civic Democrats, expressed their dissatisfaction with the government's programme, warning it would lead the country to stagnation and debt.
No MPs from either opposition party - the Civic Democrats or the Communists - voted in the cabinet's favour.
Finally, because the ruling coalition enjoys just the slimmest of majorities - 101 votes in a 200 member parliament - two ill MPs were required to leave their hospital beds on Tuesday to make an appearance in the Lower House. Their presence ensured the new government was able to clinch the minimum number of votes.
Thousands of Czechs gathered at a cemetery in the northern town of Litvinov on Wednesday, to honour Czech ice hockey coach Ivan Hlinka. Hlinka, died tragically in a car accident last week at the age of 54. The funeral was also attended by Prime Minister Stanislav Gross, top model Eva Herzigova who comes from Litvinov, and Czech national ice hockey team members Robert Reichel, Martin Rucinsky and Jiri Slegr who chose to miss the preparatory match before the World Cup in Germany, to pay their respects to the man who led their team to victory at the 1998 Olympics at Nagano.
The Czech cabinet has approved the appointment of former dissident Ales Sulc as the new head of the government's office. Mr Sulc, the current head of the interior ministry's security department, replaces Pavel Pribyl, who resigned on Friday following growing public pressure over his past in the communist era police - he headed a riot police unit that violently dispersed anti-communist demonstrators in January 1989. His successor, Ales Sulc, is a human rights activist and signatory of the Charter 77 human rights manifesto.
Police said on Wednesday the head of a monastery sold dozens of rare books that had been placed in his care by the National Museum in Prague. The old Cistercian monastery at Plasy, now state property, was used to store about 50 books from the museum collection, a police spokesman said. After removing the museum reference numbers, the monastery director allegedly sold them to two second-hand book dealers. The most valuable of the books was an 18th century atlas, valued at 31,500 euros, which was sold to an anonymous buyer and was not recovered.
Thursday is expected to remain cloudy with occasional showers and day-time temperatures reaching a maximum of 20 degrees Celsius.
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