Leaders of the 10 leading candidates for membership of the European Union -the Czech Republic among them - have signed a landmark treaty in Athens granting them accession to the EU in 2004. The signing ceremony took place at the foot of the Acropolis, watched by leaders of the present EU 15. The treaty was signed by the Czech prime minister Vladimir Spidla and president Vaclav Klaus. Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda and the country's former chief negotiator with the EU, Pavel Telicka, were also due to add their signatures. The treaty must be ratified by all 15 member states and approved by referenda in the candidate countries.
Prime Minister Spidla spoke of the historic nature of the occasion. The treaty had closed a chapter of his country's past, he said, a chapter which was too often out of Czech hands, referring to the Nazi and Soviet occupations. President Klaus struck a more pragmatic tone, saying the treaty was not the closing of a chapter, but the beginning of a new era in which Czechs would have to work hard at home and defend their position inside the EU. In an interview published on Wednesday with the German weekly Die Zeit, President Klaus said EU accession was a marriage based on reason rather than love.
Czech doctors from the country's anti-chemical unit currently based in Kuwait will begin treating Iraqi civilians in a Basra hospital on Thursday, ahead of the arrival of the 7th Army Field Hospital on Friday. Earlier this week parliament approved a plan to send the field hospital to Basra to provide emergency medical care to Iraqis. The anti-chemical unit will assist the field hospital in its work.
The Czech Defence Ministry is considering buying used supersonic fighter planes to limit the costs of replacing its Soviet-era MiG jets next year, with five offers now on the table. The government was forced to drop plans to buy 24 new Anglo-Swedish Gripen jets after last year's catastrophic floods. Deputy Defence Minister Jan Vana told Reuters there were currently five offers to sell the country supersonic jets, but that a British offer was in what he called "a more advanced stage". NATO ally Britain has offered the Czech Republic 14 older F-3 Tornado jets, which should be replaced in the British armed forces in the next few years.
Police in Austria have arrested two Czech men accused of smuggling illegal immigrants into the country. The two men - aged 24 and 25 - were arrested near the village of Laa an der Thaya, after attempting to lead a group of Chinese immigrants across an unguarded stretch of the Czech-Austrian border.
Thursday will be another fine and sunny day, with temperatures reaching 19 degrees Celsius in the daytime.
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