Britain's Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott held talks with the Czech Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek and Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda during a brief visit to Prague on Wednesday. The ailing EU budget for 2007-2013 and the need for a re-evaluation of spending priorities were the main topics of discussion. All three politicians also agreed that the European integration and enlargement processes must continue despite the rejections of the EU constitution by France and the Netherlands. Britain takes over the EU presidency from Luxembourg this Friday.
The lower house of the Czech Parliament (Chamber of Deputies) passed a law that bans smoking in some public places. If approved by the upper house (Senate) and signed by the president, smoking will be banned in public administration buildings, schools, cinemas, sports halls, and tram and bus stops. However, Christian Democrat deputy Josef Janecek says the law is "a victory for the tobacco lobby" as it fails to introduce a total ban on smoking in theatres, restaurants and bars, and workplaces. These places have the option of installing non-smoking areas if they want to avoid a complete ban. The law also restricts cigarette sales from January 1 next year. Cigarette sales from vending machines are banned and the shops allowed to sell cigarettes will be restricted to mainly tobacco shops and supermarkets.
The lower house has also approved a bill enabling referendums to be held on a range of issues including the EU constitution. The bill that amends the constitution states the president must call a referendum if it is requested by the government, a group of at least 80 of the 200 lower house deputies, or 33 of the 88 senators, or by a petition backed by at least 300,000 citizens. The right-of-centre opposition Civic Democrats voted against the bill in the lower house and will most likely block it in the upper house (Senate), where they hold enough seats to reject new constitutional laws and amendments.
Tests have confirmed the Czech Republic's 20th case of BSE, or mad cow disease. The State Veterinary Authority reported on Wednesday that the infected cow was from a herd close to the North Bohemian town of Liberec. Over one hundred cows will have to be slaughtered as a precautionary measure. Since 2001, when the first case of BSE was recorded, some 800,000 cows have been tested and 3,500 cows have been slaughtered as a precaution.
The popular Czech singer Helena Vondrackova has won her second case against a Czech tabloid paper. A Prague court ruled on Wednesday that the daily Blesk will have to pay a quarter of a million crowns (some 10,500 US dollars) to Mrs Vondrackova and her husband Michal for an article published in November 2003 claiming that he is psychologically unstable. The couple had sued for one million crowns but the court ruled that Mrs Vondrackova was to receive 50,000 and her husband 200,000 crowns in compensation. Blesk will also have to apologise and remove the article from its web site.
Meteorologists warn of heavy rain on Wednesday night that could result in flooding in some places in north-western Bohemia. Day-time temperatures will drop to around 24 degrees Celsius on Thursday and Friday.
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