The European Parliament and the European Commission have welcomed this week's amendments to the power-sharing pact between the ruling Social Democrats and the right-of-centre opposition Civic Democrats. The two largest Czech political parties agreed on Wednesday to a five-point agreement strengthening their co-operation in several areas, including preparedness for EU membership. The Commission's main negotiator for the Czech Republic Michael Leigh said on Thursday that a national consensus on the Czech Republic's accession bid was very encouraging and he hoped that it would bring concrete results. The new arrangement between the ruling party and the main opposition is aimed at speeding-up adoption of legislation bringing Czech laws in line with those of the Union. The Czech Republic was criticised by the European Commission in its annual progress report on the country published last October which stated that a lack of co-operation in the Czech Parliament was holding up important legislation. And domestically, while the strengthening of the power-sharing pact has received criticism this week from opposition parties in parliament, some Czech political analysts, and Czech President Vaclav Havel, the point on increased co-operation in EU enlargement is widely welcomed.
New criminal organizations from the Former Soviet Union appeared on the Czech drug scene in the year 1999, according to National Anti-drug Bureau head Jiri Komorous. Komorous told journalists on Thursday that large numbers of Russian-speaking drug traffickers have entered the Czech Republic in the past half-year and violent clashes between already-present Mafia rings over territory may occur. Increased amounts of illegal weapons have been discovered this year at Czech borders. And the activities of these new drug rings has been suggested by the introduction into the country of concentrated white heroine which likely originates from Afghanistan and has been blamed for dozens of deaths in the Czech Republic in the past year.
Czech Members of Parliament voted on Thursday to give the government greater powers in applying and lifting sanctions agreed on by the international community. The new law will speed up the decision-making process by allowing the government to decide about sanctions after agreement of the parliamentary foreign affairs committee. Czech Minister of Foreign Affairs Jan Kavan welcomed the new legislation. The Czech Republic has been criticized in the past for its slowness in implementing and ending sanctions as decisions had to be passed as regular legislation by the Lower House of Parliament and took several months. This was seen recently when the Czech Republic delayed several months in applying sanctions against Yugoslavia, which were requested by its NATO partners.
60 Czech KFOR troops have returned home after seven months of work in difficult conditions in the Serb province of Kosovo. The rapid displacement troops which make up part of the 150-strong contingent working in Kosovo since last June are to be replaced by another 60 soldiers which left for Kosovo on Thursday, along with 10 Kosovo refugees returning home from the Czech Republic. The main tasks ahead of the Czech KFOR contingent in the next six months include protecting the Serb minority in the province, securing the border between Kosovo and Serbia and supporting the delivery of humanitarian assistance.
The Czech Republic has taken a similar position to that of European Union members in international negotiations on genetically modified crops on Thursday at a UN-sponsored conference in Montreal. The Czech Republic's representative at the conference from the Ministry of Environment has said that the Czech stance lines up with that of EU and other countries which support language incorporated into a future protocol which would allow them to restrict imports of genetically modified crops, at odds with the position taken by the United States and other farm-exporting nations which are working to keep markets open to genetically modified crops.
The Investicni a Postovni Banka and Nomura consortium presented an offer on Thursday for the purchase of the state's majority share in the bank Ceska Sporitelna. The amount of the offer presented to the government was not disclosed but the bank's spokeswoman said it was competitive with the Austrian Erste Bank's earlier bid worth over 500 million US Dollars.
At a meeting of Holocaust survivors on Thursday in Prague, President Vaclav Havel said he was in favour of marking January 27th a Day of Remembrance for Victims of Nazism and a Day for the Fight against violence, racism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia. At a meeting on the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1945, former victims also requested stricter legislation against the propagation of racism and fascism and increased education about racism and the Holocaust.
The Czech government has announced a new anti-racism campaign entitled the Tolerance Project earmarking over 300, 000 US Dollars for a media campaign and education on racism in Czech schools. This comes as a new opinion poll conducted by the Opinion Window agency suggests that four out of ten Czechs are inclined to real or "social racism", which is defined as using a particular group as a scapegoat for the country's problems. The survey of over one thousand respondents claims that half of Czechs polled feel marked antipathy towards the Roma minority, while only thirty per cent feel antipathy for skinhead groups.
The Lower House of the Czech Parliament passed government legislation on Thursday which aims to increase foreign investment in the Czech Republic. The legislation enumerates specific investment incentives such as tax reductions, allocations for technical equipment, financial support for job creation and retraining of employees. Behind the legislation, is the government's aim to support the development of the Czech regions most affected by unemployment. The law will go into effect on the first day of the month following its final approval.
The Lower House passed another law on Thursday on the creation of a State Fund for Transport which will finance the construction, and upkeep of all highways, roads, railways and waterways in the Czech Republic. The fund, if passed by the Senate, will go into effect on July 1st of this year. Separate from the regular state budget, it will be financed by money from the National Property Fund, earnings from fees for highway use and contributions from the European Union' s Development Fund.
The Czech branch of the international humanitarian organization Adra is to send food aid for Chechen refugees in the area of 15,000 US Dollars. The food bought from funds from the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs will be sent to children in the mountains in northern Georgia, where 7000 Chechen refugees are reported to live. Since its creation in 1992, the Czech branch of Adra has been among the 16 most generous of 150 national branches world wide.
We expect partly cloudy skies on Friday with the possibility of light snow. Temperatures should range from minus three to plus one degree Celsius during the day dropping to as low as - 8 tonight. Saturday should be overcast with snow or rain expected and daytime temperatures ranging from 0 to + 4 degrees Celsius.
I'm Jana Kotalik and that's the end of the news.
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