The lower house supported the government-proposed public finance reform package in the first reading on Thursday. The house accepted the eleven bills needed for the fiscal reforms with the opposition Civic Democrats and the Communists failing to muster a majority of votes in the 200-seat chamber. The reforms, mainly a combination of tax hikes and spending cuts, aim to cut the public finance deficit to below four percent of gross domestic product in 2006 from a level of around seven percent of GDP seen this year. The second and third readings, where lawmakers can introduce amendments, are expected in September and could be possible flash points as many leftist deputies are upset with deep welfare cuts while rightist MPs say the reforms do not go far enough.
The Finance Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said on Thursday he believed the draft of the public finance reform would be passed this autumn in its second and third readings without many differences from its present form, but if not, the government would not survive. If the lower house does not pass the bill, Mr Sobotka said, the government would not be able to prepare a viable budget for 2004, which would mean its end.
Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla said on Thursday he was not worried about the fate of his cabinet in connection with the current debate over the government-planned public finance reform. Mr Spidla said after the vote he was convinced that the reform had a good basis and his cabinet were able to defend it and push it through.
The lower house of the Czech parliament also approved on Thursday the enlargement of NATO by seven countries: Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. Only nineteen MPs out of 193 voted against the enlargement which has yet to be approved by the Czech Senate. NATO decided about its enlargement at its November summit in Prague. After current member states ratify the enlargement, new members could join the alliance in the summer of next year.
Defence Minister Miroslav Kostelka has said that representatives of nine countries from which the Czech Air Force might borrow used fighter jets will arrive in Prague. According to Mr Kostelka, the ministry will acquaint them on Friday with technical and financial criteria for the lease of twelve used supersonic aircraft and two training planes. The Czech Republic has addressed Belgium, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Turkey and the United States. The Czech Air Force's ageing fleet of Soviet-made MiG-21 supersonic fighters will be decommissioned in 2005 when their lifespan expires.
President Vaclav Klaus will stay in hospital until Sunday or the beginning of next week, and after that he should have a rest for a few days, the head of the General Teaching Hospital Martin Holcat said on Thursday. Mr Klaus, who is 62, was taken to hospital with tonsillitis on Monday evening. Though the tonsillitis symptoms receded he decided to remain in hospital because of joint pain and exhaustion from an extensive work schedule. Mr Klaus's schedule for the nearest future including the appointment of new judges to the Constitutional Court has been cancelled.
Some forty chemical troops from the northern town of Liberec participated in a joint training with the pilots of the 815th air force squadron of the British Navy, held in the Jizerske hory mountains on Thursday. According to the Liberec chemical unit deputy commander Josef Kulovany, it was the first joint training of Czech soldiers and British pilots. Mr Kulovany said that the exercise focused on coordination and the soldiers would fulfil professional as well as general tasks, such as radiation surveillance.
Friday will be partly cloudy to overcast with isolated rain. Daytime temperatures should range from 23 to 27 degrees Celsius.
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