The Czech government has offered to help with the disaster relief effort underway in the US city of New Orleans. Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek made the offer to help victims of Hurricane Katrina on Monday, following talks with the US ambassador to Prague, William Cabaniss. He said the Czech government would make available a field hospital, military and civil aircraft and water pumps, as well as teams of anti-chemical specialists and health workers. The government has set aside one million dollars for the first phase of disaster aid, if the US accepts. A response was expected by Friday.
In related news, the opposition Civic Democrats have said the party will seek a fast-track cut in the excise tax on petrol. Prices have risen sharply at Czech filling stations due to the knock on affect of Hurricane Katrina and a rise in the price of oil worldwide. The excise tax now stands at just under 12 crowns per litre for petrol and 10 crowns per litre for diesel fuel, less than one third of the total price. Finance Minister Bohuslav Sobotka has said there are no plans to cut the taxes, but that the ministry was looking into ways to help offset costs for transporters and others seriously affected by the rising cost of fuel.
The Czech currency has further gains against the common European currency, reaching 29.03 crowns to the euro on Monday morning following fresh data from the United States. The currency is nearing its record high of 28.92 against the euro, which was set in July 2002. Meanwhile, as expected, Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek confirmed on Monday that the government is looking to delay the adoption of the euro by one year, to 2010.
A former liquidator of property once owned by the communist-controlled Socialist Youth Union is facing criminal charges for embezzlement. Pavel Zak, along with a former lawyer for the youth organisation, and the director of a related company, is thought to have cheated the state out of some 37 million crowns. They are charged with colluding to sell the properties below market price for personal gain. Parliament had forced Zak to resign from his post last December.
A large number of previously unknown files of the communist-era secret police the StB have been found in archives at the Interior Ministry, almost 16 years after the Velvet Revolution. The ministry confirmed the discovery of 70 metres of files to Czech Television, but provided no explanation as to why they had appeared now. Czech TV reported that most of the documents related to former dissidents and foreign diplomats. A law under which the state is obliged to allow the public access to StB files has been in place for several years.
The Czech foreign minister, Cyril Svoboda, has appealed to his British counterpart, Jack Straw, to preserve the Czech service of the BBC, which is funded by Britain's Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The Czech BBC broadcasts five hours a day, but has a small audience: one survey last year suggested it had a mere 0.1 percent of the market. Mr Svoboda, speaking at a meeting of European Union foreign ministers in Wales, described the Czech BBC as world class.
The Czech national football team have lost two of their key players to injury ahead of Wednesday's visit of Armenia in FIFA World Cup qualifying. Goalkeeper Petr Cech bruised his shoulder in Saturday's 2-0 loss to Romania and has returned to Chelsea FC, while Marek Jankulovski flew back to AC Milan on Monday for treatment on his ankle. The Czech team are heavily favoured to beat Armenia, despite the injuries.
Clear skies and daytime highs of up to 28 degrees Celsius is the forecast for the next couple of days.
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