The lower house of the Czech Parliament has finally approved the government's draft budget for the year 2000, ending almost two months of uncertainty. It was the minority Social Democrat government's third attempt at getting this year's budget through the lower house. It was passed on Wednesday morning, following amendments to the ruling party's controversial power-sharing pact with the main opposition Civic Democrats. The amendments include a provision to cut the state budget deficit to zero by 2003 and prepare the country for membership of the European Union. Critics say the new pact is undemocratic, but market analysts have welcomed the closer co-operation between the two parties, saying the threat of early elections was acting as a deterrent to potential investment.
Meanwhile the deputy chairwoman of the Social Democrats, Petra Buzkova, resigned from her post on Wednesday after expressing her opposition to the deepening of the power-sharing pact. She said she was particularly opposed to planned changes to the electoral system and the deregulation of state-controlled rents. Ms Buzkova has not been given a post in the Social Democrat cabinet, despite being one of the most popular politicians in the country. She said she remained a loyal member of the party, and would stay on as deputy speaker of the lower house of parliament.
The Czech President, Vaclav Havel, has also expressed concern over the amended power-sharing pact. Speaking in Stockholm, Mr Havel said he had grave doubts about what he termed the "peculiar method of opposition-coalition government." The President also claimed he had only learnt the details of the amendments to the pact from the press. The Civic Democrats, however, say his office was sent a copy of the agreement as soon as it was approved.
The board of the country´s public television corporation Czech Television has appointed 32-year-old Dusan Chmelicek as the new Director General. Mr Chmelicek currently heads Czech Television´s legal department. The outgoing director, Jakub Puchalsky, resigned in December after just eighteen months in the post. Mr Puchalsky recently accused the senior opposition Civic Democrats of attempting to exert political pressure on the station.
The Prime Minister Milos Zeman said on Wednesday he would announce a cabinet reshuffle within the next two weeks. The reshuffle was one of the conditions laid down by the Civic Democrats in exchange for their support for the state budget. Mr Zeman refused to give details, but observers believe Interior Minister Vaclav Grulich, Transport Minister Antonin Peltram and Minister without Portfolio Jaroslav Basta will be asked to leave their posts.
At least ten Belgian firms have complained to the Czech embassy in Brussels about the new law on residence for foreigners. Among the provisions of the new law is that foreigners working in the Czech Republic must apply for a long-term visa in their home countries, rather than applying at the foreigners´ police in Prague. The companies, which include the international parcel delivery service DHL, say they were not given advance warning of the new legislation, and several employees will have to return to Belgium to apply for new long-term visas.
And finally a new opinion poll has claimed that just one percent of the Czech population are vegetarian. Almost three thousand people were interviewed by the Median agency for the survey, but less than 30 said they never ate meat. The results of the poll are far from surprising, however, as Czech cuisine is heavily meat-based. One of the country´s most popular pub snacks is the pulped insides of a pig´s head, marinated in vinegar.
And I´ll end as usual with a quick look at the weather forecast for Friday. And it will be a mostly cloudy day with isolated snowfalls in places. Temperatures will reach one degree Celsius in the daytime, falling to lows of minus eight at night.
I'm Rob Cameron and that's the end of the news.
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