President Vaclav Klaus and his Austrian counterpart Thomas Klestil, who arrived on a one-day visit to the Czech Republic on Thursday, have discussed Czech-Austrian relations and cooperation within the EU. The two presidents also touched upon controversial questions of Czech-Austrian relations. However, according to President Klaus they did not mention the so-called Benes decrees in their conversation and Mr Klaus himself is not preparing any specific gestures, demanded by some Austrian politicians in connection with the Benes decrees, which sanctioned the deportation of ethnic Germans from Czechoslovakia after the Second World War. President Klestil said that Austrian leaders were pleased at the progress in the so-called Melk process, which was designed to assure expert security for the Temelin nuclear power plant. The power station is located close to the Czech-Austrian border and has been the cause of many protests in the nuclear-free Austria.
The Czech Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla and the outgoing Justice Minister Pavel Rychetsky have agreed on the successor to Mr Rychetsky in the post, but the name will be disclosed after Mr Spidla returns from his US trip. Mr Rychetsky, whose candidacy to the Constitutional Court was approved by the Senate on Wednesday, has said he plans to resign on Tuesday, while proposing his successor at the same time. Among the names, Czech media have been mentioning in connection with the post are Ceske Budejovice-based lawyer Vladimir Papez, Education Minister Petra Buzkova, the deputy chairwoman of the lower house Jitka Kupcova and Social Democrat MPs Zdenek Koudelka and Stanislav Krecek.
The Finance Ministry said on Wednesday that the government's budget gap would grow faster than expected this year to about 8.3 percent of GDP, nearly three times the limit for European Union countries. Rising social costs, bank bailouts and a cleanup after last year's devastating floods would contribute to what the ministry said would be a public finance deficit of more than 196 billion crowns (7.2 billion dollars) by the end of 2003. Earlier this year the ministry estimated a 176 billion deficit, well above the 111 billion crowns set budget for 2003 approved by parliament. Last year's deficit was 45 billion crowns. The government has proposed a broad series of tax hikes, government layoffs, pension cuts and other reforms in the hope of reducing the deficit to 4 percent by 2006 and below 3 percent by 2010, the year Prague hopes to join the euro zone. Parliament is expected to begin acting on the reform package in September.
The Czech power company CEZ, Europe's second largest electricity exporter, emerged as a frontrunner on Thursday after Slovakia reopened a tender for the indebted utility Slovenske Elektrarne. CEZ said on Thursday it would bid in the tender after the Slovak government reopened the stalled sell-off on Wednesday, a move widely seen as a nod to CEZ to enter the race and jumpstart the process. In acquiring the Slovak firm, the cash-rich CEZ is looking to make itself a significant player in the region and open a path to Hungary and the Balkan countries as European Union accession looms next May. Slovakia is offering to sell 49 percent and management control in the dominant utility. It received eight bids in the preliminary round that closed last September.
The newly elected director of the public broadcaster Czech Television Jiri Janecek has said that he would like to make the face of Czech Television younger and wake the station up. Mr Janecek assumed his post on Thursday, leaving his duties as anchor of the prime time news programme and head of the news department for the station. Jiri Janecek who was elected by the Czech Television Council on Wednesday, said that motivation of employees should be the key to improving the image of the television while keeping its public-service character. He also said he is preparing personnel changes in the station's management and that he would also like to continue with the station's restructuring that was begun under the previous management.
Police in Karlovy Vary say a passer-by found an unknown explosive in a plastic bag at a parking lot in the town on Thursday. Police closed off the place immediately and called a bomb disposal expert to defuse the explosive. According to a local police officer there was also an unknown explosive system in the bag. The type and origin of the explosive have not yet been identified.
A 25-year-old Czech woman, whose body was discovered on the Spanish island of Tenerife earlier this month, most probably did not die a violent death, according to reports supplied to the Czech Foreign Ministry. The ministry's spokesman said that Spanish police are not investigating the death as a murder. He added that officials had already asked the woman's relatives to arrive in Tenerife to assist in the identification. The dead woman had probably been working in Tenerife for several weeks as a waitress or salesclerk, and her family had had no word from her since July 7.
Cloudy skies and rain are forecast for most of Friday with maximum daytime temperatures reaching 27 degrees Celsius.
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