The Czech Republic has a new Agriculture Minister - Social Democrat Jan Mladek. Mr Mladek, who was named into office by President Vaclav Klaus on Wednesday, replaces Petr Zgarba, who resigned following corruption scandals involving ministry institutions. Mr Mladek's two main priorities are to change the way key ministry institutions such as the Czech Land Fund are run and ensure that the agriculture sector's use of EU money is efficient.
According to unofficial information, Austria's Kapsch has won a tender to supply the Czech state with an electronic road toll system, which is to be launched in the Czech Republic in about two years. The Czech Transport Ministry said on Wednesday that the winner of the tender has been chosen but refused to reveal which of the four companies in the running it is.
The Czech Cabinet has agreed to set aside an additional 1.5 billion crowns (over 61 million US dollars) for the repair and construction of industrial zones and infrastructure near Ostrava, the proposed site of a new 1.2 billion dollar Hyundai car plant. The Cabinet has already set aside 3.25 billion crowns in relation to the proposed venture of the South Korean carmaker. Hyundai reportedly wants a four-lane highway built from Ostrava to neighbouring Slovakia, where its affiliate Kia Motors has a factory.
The South Korean investment has become a focal point for political debate over the Czech Republic's system of incentives for attracting foreign investment, with the main opposition Civic Democratic Party calling for a major reduction in incentives packages.
During its session on Wednesday, the government also decided to ask the Supreme Audit Office (NKU) to carry out an audit on the country's biggest health insurer (VZP), give the counter-intelligence service (BIS) over 18 million crowns to use on wiretappings, and approved a revised counter-terrorism plan that increases the authority of intelligence services, posts more police officers at Czech embassies, and protects cargo carrying dangerous materials.
The Czech government hopes to speed up the modernisation of its fleet of transport aircraft and has earmarked 850 million crowns (a little over 34.5 million US dollars) to buy two new planes. One is expected to be delivered next year, the other in 2007. The fleet is highly outdated and the number of forced landings due to technical failures has been growing. A commission is to decide by the end of the month whether two of the Russian Tu-154s will be replaced by Boeing or Airbus planes. The entire modernisation of the fleet is expected to cost around four billion crowns (around 164 million US dollars).
The Czech Police suspect one of the two convicted murderers who escaped from a prison earlier this month is on his way to southern Europe. Roman Cabrada, a drug dealer who was imprisoned for the murder of a German mayor two years ago, is most probably heading for Italy or Spain, from where he will try to go to Thailand, a police spokesperson said on Wednesday.
The convicts escaped with the aid of a guard by hiding in a service truck. The other inmate, Rostislav Roztocil, who killed an Egyptian student, was arrested last week. He had been hiding at his sister's flat in Germany.
The Prague Municipal Court has ruled that a High Court Judge Jitka Horova did not collaborate with the Communist secret police (StB). Mrs Horova was suspended from office in August after the Interior Ministry revealed that her name was on a list of possible StB collaborators.
The next few days are going to be cold and rainy. Meteorologists have also forecast snow around the country. Day-time temperatures will fall gradually to reach a minimum of -1 degrees Celsius at the end of the week.
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