The Czech Cabinet has approved a draft state budget proposal for 2005 with a projected deficit of 83.6 billion crowns /about 3 billion US dollars/. Thanks to a last minute reduction of the budget deficit by 10 billion crowns the proposal falls just short of the criteria set by the European Commission's convergence programme. The proposal envisages a rise in salaries for some state employees, although the government failed to meet the demands of trade union leaders who requested a more even distribution of the available funds. The budget proposal was approved unanimously. The two opposition parties in Parliament are not prepared to support it.
On an official visit to Poland, the Czech Prime Minister Stanislav Gross called for closer cooperation within the Visegrad Group. The Visegrad group is a loose alliance of central and east European states established after the fall of communism, which later became instrumental in helping its members to meet the EU criteria for membership. During a meeting with his Polish counterpart Marek Belka in Warsaw, Mr. Gross argued that if the new EU members coordinated their policy more effectively they could achieve more. The two prime ministers also discussed the possibility of further EU enlargement to include Turkey. Mr. Gross said he was convinced that Turkey had a future in Europe if it could meet EU criteria.
Poland and the Czech Republic want the European Union to lobby the United States on their behalf to get the visa-regime for their citizens travelling to the United States lifted. We will probably achieve a no-visa system more easily and with greater efficiency within the framework of the EU, Polish Prime Minister Marek Belka told reporters on Wednesday. Both the Czech Republic and Poland, which have been EU members since May 1st, have pressed in vain for visa requirements to be lifted. Czech and Polish visitors to the United States need a visa, whereas US citizens visiting the Czech Republic or Poland do not.
A woman who allegedly collected money for Chechen armed groups in several states, including the Czech Republic, has been arrested in Chechnya, according to the Russian Intelligence Service. Natallia Khalkayeva, 31, allegedly operated in the United Arab Emirates, Austria, Germany, the Czech Republic and Poland, collecting money and helping to select suicide bombers. She was arrested in Chechnya carrying a belt of explosives and a satellite telephone.
Twenty five Czech cities took part in car-free day on Wednesday, four of them even banning traffic in the city centre. Several cities made public transport free for that day. Although traditionally an attempt was made to observe car day in the Czech capital Prague only a few people responded to the appeal to leave their cars at home for the day. In an attempt to set a good example three Cabinet ministers rode their bikes to work on Wednesday.
Thursday is expected to be overcast and rainy with day temperatures between 13 and 17 degrees Celsius.
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