The Chamber of Deputies has approved the government's state budget for 2004, including a record deficit of 115 billion crowns, or more than 4.2 billion US dollars. The budget was supported by 98 out of 198 deputies present, with 95 deputies from the opposition Civic Democratic Party and Communists voting against. The 115 billion crown deficit was proposed by the government of Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla as part of a sweeping, multi-year budget reform package. Parliament has already given a green light to other reform measures including sales tax increases and corporate tax cuts which take effect next month. The deficit, based on a budget with 754 billion crowns in expected revenues and 869 billion crowns in expenses, is around 4 per cent higher than this year's record spending gap. Overall, the prime minister hopes to bring the deficit under control over the next three years so that the Czech Republic can qualify for changing its currency to the euro before 2010. Meanwhile, the approved budget for 2004 must still be signed by President Vaclav Klaus.
Czech police have said they arrested four traffickers from a major narcotics gang, following a nationwide series of raids on Wednesday. The four, police say, include the alleged kingpin of the Europe-based organisation. Police spokeswoman Blanka Kosinova revealed that the traffickers were believed to have smuggled almost 240 kilos of heroin - some 2.5 million doses, along with 19 kilos of cocaine, from the Czech Republic to other European countries. Names and other details on the suspects have not been released. In all police raided 12 locations Wednesday, including the alleged gang leader's luxury Prague home. Confiscated were guns, vehicles, cash, fake documents and bullet-proof vests. The police operation, dubbed 'Operation Titanium' saw Czech officials co-operate with Austrian and Italian authorities. Now, each of the suspects in custody could face up to 15 years in prison.
Some 300 Czech students gathered in Prague on Wednesday to protest against what they see as government under-financing of Czech universities. Students met at Prague's Charles University before marching to the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies, carrying various banners and signs, while police looked on. In front of the Lower House students handed Waltr Bartos, the head of the Lower House's commission on Education, a document outlining their view on the state-of-affairs. They also addressed the education minister, Petra Buzkova, on her way to proceedings. Wednesday's protest followed a similar meeting on Tuesday that took place in the east Moravian city of Olomouc.
Lawyer Jiri Nykodym has been approved by the Czech senate to become the country's newest constitutional judge, say as yet unofficial reports. An undisclosed source told the Czech news agency CTK on Wednesday that Mr Nykodym had been nominated by secret ballot in the senate, by a number of 43 votes out of a total 58 cast. Once appointed by President Vaclav Klaus, Mr Nykodym will become the 12th of 15 judges that make up the Czech Republic's Constitutional Court. Jiri Nykodym, who is 58, is a member of the Government Legislative Council. He is an expert on administrative, as well as property and family law.
Thursday is expected to be cloudy with daytime temperatures hovering at a lowly 2 degrees Celsius.
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