The Chamber of Deputies has approved sending over 100 troops from Czech special forces to take part in the U.S.-led operation "Enduring Freedom", aimed at countering remnant Taliban and Al-Qaeda terrorist forces in Afghanistan. The decision, approved by the Senate last month, marks the first time Czech troops will take part in combat operations since the end of the Second World War. In total 127 out of 186 deputies on Wednesday voted in favour, while 46 voted against. On Tuesday the head of the Czech military general staff, Pavel Stefka, said the first group of soldiers could leave for Afghanistan as early as seven days after deployment approval. Around 108 reconnaissance specialists are set to join Operation Enduring Freedom, while another 30 soldiers will participate in NATO's ISAF operation in Kabul.
The Czech government has confirmed Pavel Telicka as the country's candidate for European commissioner. Mr Telicka, the current Czech ambassador to the EU, was chosen after the original nominee, Milos Kuzvart, withdrew his bid last week, citing a lack of support in particular from the country's Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda. On Wednesday Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla informed European Commission President Romano Prodi of Mr Telicka's nomination.
The right-of-centre opposition Civic Democrats have said they aim to call a special session in Parliament, with the intention of asking the government to explain the criteria by which Czech candidates will be proposed for new posts in various EU bodies. After a proposal to discuss the issue was vetoed by two deputy groups on Wednesday - the Social Democrats and the Freedom Union - the Civic Democrat's Jan Zahradil said his party would start collecting the necessary amount of signatures of deputies needed to call a special session. On Wednesday Social Democrat Deputy Prime Minister Stanislav Gross rejected the Civic Democrats' proposal, saying a special parliamentary session on the issue was premature.
Czech Deputy Prime Minister Stanislav Gross has claimed that the opposition Civic Democrats cheated in a Chamber of Deputies vote last week that saw the Civic Democrats unsuccessfully try and vote down the government's proposal on the VAT. Public broadcaster Czech TV has reported that at the time of the vote independent MP Petr Kott had already been escorted from the building, though a record from the vote shows Mr Kottt "supporting" the opposition. Czech TV has suggested that Mr Kott, who was escorted from parliament due to inebriation, may have forgotten his ballot on the table, enabling someone else to vote in his name. The Chamber's mandate and immunity commission is now looking into the matter. Meanwhile, members of the Civic Democratic Party, who sit near Mr Kott in the Chamber, have denied any wrong-doing and have asked Mr Gross for an official apology.
Pavel Opocensky, the Czech sculptor who received a previous sentence of three years in prison for the abuse of underage girls has received an additional 4 and a half years in a similar set of new charges. A Prague court on Wednesday also sentenced Mr Opocensky's 21-year-old girlfriend to 200 hours of community service, for her role in Mr Opocensky's alleged repeated cases of sexual abuse. Mr Opocensky's lawyer is considering whether to appeal Wednesday's decision.
The Czech Republic has decided to join a wider EU ban on the importing of U.S. poultry and other birds, aimed at preventing the spread of a weaker bird flu strain. The strain found in the U.S. is unlike the deadly bird flu already witnessed in parts of Asia. Before now the Czech Republic has not imported U.S. poultry due to U.S. poultry exports not meeting Czech standards; joining the ban means exotic and wild birds will also be excluded. The EU ban is to stay in place until March 23. Josef Duben, of the State Veterinary Office, said on Wednesday the Czech Republic would base any further decision on the EU.
Thursday is expected to see sunny intervals with daytime temperatures of 3 degrees Celsius.
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