Deputy foreign minister in Canada
The Czech deputy foreign minister, Martin Palous, started a ten day official visit to Canada and the United States, which is the first visit by a Czech senior official since the visit by the former prime minister Vaclav Klaus in early 1997. Palous is expected to meet the Canadian deputy trade minister and the deputy minister of foreign affairs, with whom he should discuss the political and economic relations between the two countries, as well as the possible abolition of visa requirements for the Czech Republic, introduced as a result of last year's influx of Romany asylum seekers in Canada. The number of Romany immigrants to Canada has since gone down, and there is now a higher percentage of those with higher education among them, who, according to experts, could help improve the status of the Romany community in Canada. Palous visit to the United States, which starts on Sunday, should concentrate on Czech Republic's accession to NATO this March.
No agreement has yet been reached between the Communist Party and the Social Democrats in the Lower House of Czech Parliament. The Communist deputies condition their support for the 1999 government budget on the reduction of Czech defence spending, which in the view of the upcoming accession of the Czech Republic to NATO, is strongly opposed by the Czech Defence ministry. The communist deputies first demanded that 6.75 billion crowns from the defence coffers be transferred to the general treasury, but they've now reduced their demand to 1.25 billion. The vote on the budget is expected after its third reading on Friday. Meanwhile, the Lower House has turned down the proposal by the Civic Democratic Party to introduce a constitutional law which would guarantee a mandatory balanced budget. According to the ODS, would secure a stable level of state debt and better management of taxpayers' money, as well as prevent political parties from using the government budget in their election campaign promises. The bill was turned down by 128 of the 188 deputies present. According to the former finance minister, the Freedom Union Party deputy Ivan Pilip, such law is unnecessary in a normally functioning state mechanism.. ODS came with the proposal for mandatory balanced budget in September last year, when the Social Democratic government submitted its first draft of the 1999 government budget, with a 27 billion Crowns deficit.
A trial opens in Prague today with two members of the skin-head movement, accused of a racially motivated murder of a 26 year old Romany woman last year. The woman drowned after being forced to step into the river in North Bohemia, where she was pulled in by a strong current. The trial coincides with the visit by the British deputy home secretary, Mike OBrien, who has been focusing particularly on Czech racial policy, and the way the Czech Republic has been dealing with the Romany issue. Mr O'Brien, whose visit continues today in the North Moravian city of Ostrava, discussed the issue of Czech Romanies with president Havel's advisor, Jirí Pehe, and expressed optimism that the Czech Republic has finally addressed the problem, which nearly made Britain introduce visa requirements for Czech nationals last year, and has put Czech racial policy under constant criticism by the international community. O'Brien also met the Czech deputy interior minister, Jaroslav Kopriva, with whom he discussed the problem of organised crime and illegal migration as well as the role of police in the fight against racism and xenophobia.
Members of the four-party coalition, comprising the Christian Democrats, the Freedom Union, the Civic Democratic alliance and the Democratic Union, have agreed to extend their coalition agreement. The four party coalition was formed before last year's senate election, and its main purpose is forming a third stream in Czech politics, next to the center left Social Democrats and the right wing Civic Democratic Party. The new coalition agreement should further strengthen the existing cooperation between the four parties.
Today will be cloudy or partially cloudy in most parts of the Czech Republic, with temperatures at zero degrees Celsius. Snow is expected in the mountains, and rain and sleet in lower altitudes. And that's the end of the news.
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