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Government scales back plan to hike the VAT

The Czech coalition parties on Thursday scaled back a plan to hike the value-added tax, agreeing to raise the lower rate from 10to 14 percent in 2012 instead of unifying it with the top 20 percent rate. From 2013, both VAT rates should be unified at 17.5 percent, Prime Minister Petr Necas told a press conference on Thursday. The planned VAT hike which is to help finance the government’s pension reform should bring an extra 26 billion into the state coffers in 2012 and 30 billion more after the introduction of a unified VAT. The prime minister said the compromise will not jeopardize the planned reform since in view of a lower VAT the government would not have to valorise old age pensions to such an extent or compensate families with children as heavily as it was planning to do.

Finance minister says he was bluffing in conversation with media representative

Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek has admitted he was bluffing when he claimed to have a secret recording of a meeting at which edtiors-in-chief of the countries’ leading dailies discussed a massive media campaign against a planned VAT increase on books and newspapers. Mr. Kalousek said he had bluffed in a telephone conversation with Mladá fronta Dnes editor-in-chief Robert Časenský, in order to find out more about the meeting which he knew had taken place. Mr. Časenský on Thursday published the telephone conversation verbatim, accusing the finance minister of having attacked press freedom. Mr.Kalousek has dismissed the accusation saying that he wanted the public to know that the government proposed pension reform was under fire from the media primarily because of the business interests of media publishers.

Demonstrators to descend on Nový Bydžov

Close to 1,000 demonstrators are expected to descend on the town of Nový Bydžov on Saturday to express their views on the town’s policy in dealing with problem inhabitants. The town mayor is leading a campaign backed by 51 towns, demanding greater powers in dealing with problem citizens, predominantly Romanies. The demands include the right to cancel welfare benefits and increase the municipality’s powers in collecting debts. Four different organizations have called demonstrations in the town centre on Saturday including ultra-right and left-wing groupings. Police are expected to be out in force to maintain order.

Ex-president reported to be in stable condition

The former Czech president Václav Havel who was hospitalized with an acute respiratory inflammation on Tuesday is reported to be in stable condition. A hospital spokeswoman said on Thursday that Mr. Havel was responding well to treatment and would most likely remain hospitalized for several more days. Mr. Havel’s assistant said the ex-president had cancelled his programme for the next two weeks and was still hoping to be able to attend the premiere of his film debut, Leaving, scheduled for March 24. Mr. Havel, who was a heavy smoker for most of his life, has frequently suffered from bronchitis and underwent a lung operation in 1996.

Pervitin remains serious problem

Pervitin –a home-made hard drug remains the most serious problem in the fight against drug-abuse, Jakub Frydrych, head of the Czech anti-drug centre said on Thursday. Pervitin, which has a similar effect as cocaine, but is cheaper and can be made in home labs from flu medicine, has gained widespread popularity among Czech drug users. Every year police uncover between 300 and 400 home labs producing the drug in unhygienic conditions which alone can prove fatal to users.

Kindergarten teacher involved in tragedy acquitted of charges

A court in Jihlava has acquitted a kindergarten teacher of causing grievous bodily harm resulting in death through negligence. In late 2009 the teacher took a class of six-year-olds out to play at a local football field and one of the little girls was fatally injured when one of the heavy goalposts turned over and hit her. It was later ascertained that the children brought it down unintentionally.

Central bank posts 9.7 billion crown loss in 2010

The Czech National Bank last year lost 9.7 billion crowns, while in 2009 it made a profit of 18.5 billion, according to data published on Thursday. Accumulated losses of previous years decreased thanks to profits made in 2009 to the tune of 152 billion. The entire profit was used to cut the losses of previous years. The Czech National Bank is the central bank of the Czech Republic and the supervisor of the Czech financial market. It sets monetary policy, issues banknotes and coins and manages the circulation of currency, the payment system and settlement between banks.

Škoda doubles operating profit and ups sales

Car maker Škoda Auto said on Thursday it had almost doubled its operating profit to 11.3 billion crowns in 2010 from 5.9 billion in the previous year. According to company figures Škoda's sales rose to 220 billion last year from 188 billion in 2009.The car maker said it had registered a strong increase in demand in China, India and Russia. The company also successfully developed its leading position on the Czech market. Škoda Auto became part of German concern Volkswagen 20 years ago. It operates car plants in the Czech Republic, China, Russia, India and Ukraine. The company plans to widen the range of car models and strengthen activities on international markets aiming to double its sales worldwide by 2018.

Jiří Majstr to head CTK news agency

Jiří Majstr was elected director of the CTK news agency by a unanimous vote of the board on Thursday. Majsr, who is currently head of the agency’s news desk, will take office in June, replacing the current CTK head Milan Stibral who announced his decision to retire late last year.