The Czech Republic's top officials are to celebrate Wednesday's signing of the EU accession treaty on Friday morning at the government headquarters in Prague. The ceremony will be attended by President Vaclav Klaus, Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla and Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda who signed the treaty in Athens. Former President Vaclav Havel, former Prime Minister Milos Zeman and former Foreign Minister and current President of the United Nations General Assembly Jan Kavan have also been invited to Friday's ceremony.
Members of the 7th Czech military field hospital said good-bye to their colleagues at a ceremony in Hradec Kralove on Thursday before leaving for their mission in Basra, southern Iraq. The first 40 members of the unit left on Thursday afternoon for Kuwait from where they will travel to Iraq. Further personnel will leave on Friday. The field hospital has two operating theatres, a quarantine section, a dentist's office with an X-ray machine and a pharmacy. The unit has about 270 members. The United States ambassador to Prague Craig Stapleton praised the Czech government for deciding to send the unit to Iraq. He said that although Iraq has been liberated, there is still work to be done.
On Tuesday, parliament approved Prime Minister Vladmir Spidla's plan to dispatch the medical unit to provide humanitarian support. The United States is helping to finance the operation. Mr Spidla has been emphasising the humanitarian focus of the hospital and the 400-member Czech army unit stationed in Kuwait that can detect against nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. Last year the Czech Republic stationed an army hospital in Afghanistan following a US-led war there. Before its mission ended in January the 6th field hospital treated nearly 14,000 Afghans.
Defence Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik has said he will submit to the government a proposal for the abolition of compulsory military service by May 15. According to the proposal, compulsory military service will be abolished as of December 31, 2004 and the Czech Republic would have a professional military two years earlier than originally planned. Mr Tvrdik said that the Defence Ministry still had to check whether the military professionalisation could be accelerated from the organisational and financial point of view.
The Czech Finance Minister Bohuslav Sobotka has said the ministry will re-submit an excise tax hike bill to raise cash and bring the country's tax law more in line with the EU after it was rejected by parliament on Wednesday. The bill was expected to bring an estimated 1.5 billion crowns to the state budget this year. Minister Sobotka said the government would also consider January 1 and July 1 next year as two alternative dates for shifting services into the regular 22 percent value added tax bracket from the current five percent bracket. Mr Sobotka said he would try to push through the excise tax hikes on tobacco and alcohol soon so they can take effect before the end of this year.
Friday is expected to be partly cloudy with daytime temperatures reaching highs between 9 and 11 degrees Celsius.
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