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The Czech Republic once thought to be in the fast lane en route to European Union membership is hearing ever louder warning signals from Brussels that it may have fallen from the fast track.
Prague's chief negotiator and deputy foreign minister Pavel Telicka acknowledged serious shortcomings, which have caused senior EU officials to signal that Prague may be in danger of removal from the first group of post communist countries tipped to join.
Mr Telicka said worries, stem from a combination of long Czech delays in preparing legislation, a deep recession that has thrown economic reform into doubt while other candidates show growth and a Czech image problem in Brussels.
Prague has already been labeled a laggard in preparations in an EU status report last year. However, a report due in October is widely expected to be even more critical than last year's poor assessment. Mr Telicka stressed that the key event in assessing applicants will be the definitive evaluation planned for mid-2000, when the Czech Republic should be on the road to economic recovery. The Czechs along with four other former east bloc countries, forming the fast track group are deep in talks aiming for EU membership early next decade.
The Czech cabinet meeting on Wednesday, approved a plan which aims to introduce stricter laws on the ownership and use of firearms in this country. This is the first step to clamping down on the problems of casual ownership of guns.
A spokesman told journalists that the current law, is not in accordance with European Union requirements. He said that the difference between the current laws and those of the EU is that the Czech law does not stipulate the type of gun needing a permit. He also told waiting journalists that the cabinet would like to see a new, improved police force in the Czech Republic, one which will be more effective. He said the organization would have more responsibilities and spoke of the need for better communication between police and the public.
The government also approved a new law regarding the organization of the Czech Secret Service, the BIS. According to a spokesman, one member of the cabinet is to be given the job of overseeing the activities of the service. After the meeting, journalists waited for Premier Milos Zeman to emerge and make a promised statement on the affair of Deputy Premier Egon Lansky and what could be an illegal bank account in Austria. Zeman although he had held talks earlier in day with governor of the Czech National Bank, Josef Tosovky, disappointed journalists and sent his spokesman along to say that he would be giving interviews on the subject on Friday.
Czech Defence Minister Vladimir Vetchy is continuing his trip to the Ukraine. A visit to several armament factories is top of the agenda for Thursday. Vetchy and his Ukrainian counterpart Oleksandr Kuzmuk signed a protocol in Kiev on Wednedsay, promoting greater co-operation between the two countries airforces. Sources say the signed document outlines the use of airspace. This is a follow up to a document signed three years ago between the two states and is the only one of its type to be signed with another country other than with Hungary.
Speaking to journalists on Wednesday afternoon, Vladimir Vetchy said that the Czech Republic is also interested in the purchasing of spare parts for its planes from the Ukraine. He revealed that the Ukraine could have a part in the production of the new Czech L-159 planes, by supplying the engines. During their talks, Vetchy and his counterpart also discussed the situation in Kosovo. The Ukraine is planning to send another helicopter unit to the region and Vetchy expressed his approval that Kiev is maintaining a neutral stance on the conflict.
The Finance ministry has announced that the state budget at the end of August, showed a deficit of 5.6 billion Czech Crowns. Although the budget at the end of July, showed a balance of 0.7 billion crowns, a spokeswoman for the Ministry said that the latest figures are in accordance with seasonal fluctuations. According to the Finance Ministry, the deficit should not be more than ten billion crowns more than the approved 31 billion. The spokeswoman said on Wednesday, that the increased expenditure comes from Insurance, social security and the larger pensions recently introduced by the state.
A huge package , weighing twenty tons consisting of humanitarian aid bound for Turkey, is set to leave Prague on Thursday. An association based in the Czech Republic called ADRA has been in charge of putting together the material and making sure it reaches the earthquake stricken areas. According to charity workers, the package involves dried milk, medicines, mattresses and disinfectants. The Czech government almost with various local town councils, donated some 750 000 Czech crowns.
The Czech car manufacturer Skoda Mlada Boleslav revealed on Wednesday for the first time, details about its new model, Skoda Fabia. The company stressed that the Fabia is not a model which will replace the Felicia one of the best selling cars in the Czech Republic, but is simply another addition to the range of cars on offer. The Fabia fulfills all safety requirements and in accordance with European Union laws is environment friendly. According to a spokesman, the price is expected to be between that of the Felicia and the Octavia, their top of the range model. Media estimates range from 250 000 to 270 000.
To mark the beginning of the school year, Czech President Vaclav Havel visited a school in Prague. Once their shyness wore off, the eight year olds bombarded Vaclav Havel with questions on what its like to be President. He told them that sometimes he has to laugh, even when he's furious, but assured one little girl that she will probably never have to worry about such things.
Thursday will see a cool start to the day, with the possibility of showers and fog in the morning. This will clear up as the day continues, with temperatures climbing to 21 degrees Celsius. All in all though, we're in for a cool, cloudy day, with a bit of wind overnight.
I'm Dita Asiedu and that's the end of the news.
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