Gross vows to act quickly to form new government; new-old coalition members to discuss 'manifesto' on Friday

Czech Prime Minister-designate Stanislav Gross vowed on Tuesday to act quickly to form a new government, after leaders from the three parties that make up the current governing coalition agreed to again cooperate. The leftist Social Democrats, of which Mr Gross is party chairman, the centrist Christian Democrats and rightist Freedom Union are looking to form a coalition similar to that of outgoing Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla. Mr Gross told reporters that Tuesday's agreement paved the way for the new-old coalition to write a government manifesto, which would guide it up to a general election in 2006. Coalition leaders are due to discuss the manifesto on Friday. State budgets, changes to tax laws, household rent deregulation and foreign policy are among key items the coalition is looking to reach agreement on.

Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla responds to 'Harry Potter' author's criticisms over the use of caged and netted beds in Czech institutions

Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla has written to author J.K. Rowling of 'Harry Potter' fame, responding to her criticisms of the use of caged and netted beds in Czech institutions. Earlier this month, the best-selling author of children's books had characterised the use of the beds as an appalling and cruel practice. Last week, Health Minister Jozef Kubinyi banned the use of caged beds and ordered the use of netted beds to be phased out this year. In Mr Spidla's letter, he defended Czech practices and noted that the two types of beds were used only for short periods of time, when mentally ill or disabled people were in an agitated state and needed to be restrained from harming themselves or other patients. For his part, President Vaclav Klaus has called the ban a "cheap gesture" that does nothing to address problems confronting Czech hospitals and social institutions.

French plant workers accept 36-hour work week to avoid Bosch relocating to Czech Republic

French workers at a subsidiary of the German manufacturing group Bosch have agreed to work longer hours in order to prevent the plant from relocating to the Czech Republic. The deal is seen as something of a referendum on the French 35-hour-week, which was adopted years ago in an attempt to reduce high unemployment by creating more jobs. The Bosch workers, who make auto parts at a factory in south-central France, voted almost unanimously to accept a 36 hours work week without extra pay and also agreed to a pay freeze at least until 2007. Several leading French trade union federations meanwhile expressed indignation at the outcome of the Bosch vote, saying that Bosch had succeeded in "blackmailing" the workers by threatening to move to the Czech Republic.

UNEP opens new office to protect Carpathian mountain range

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has opened a new office in Vienna that will focus on protecting the Carpathian mountain range, one of Europe's largest, while promoting environmental cooperation in Central and South-eastern Europe. The mountain range, which stretches from the Czech Republic to Ukraine, serves as a haven for a considerable number of endangered species such as the brown bear, wolf and lynx. With close to 4,000 partly endangered plant species, the Carpathians account for 30 per cent of the European flora.

Baros to stay with Liverpool, Poborsky to remain Sparta captain

Czech striker Milan Baros, the top scorer at the Euro 2004 football championships held in Portugal last month, has said he wants to stay at Liverpool and will fight for a place in the English club's starting line-up. Baros scored five goals in Portugal but has struggled to establish himself alongside England striker Michael Owen in the Liverpool team since joining the club in December 2001. The 22-year-old striker told Liverpool's website on Tuesday he had heard rumours about high-profile clubs like Real Madrid and Barcelona being interested in him but that he was looking forward to a new season with Liverpool. Meanwhile, Czech midfielder Karel Poborsky has opted to stay with Sparta Prague by signing a one-year deal on Tuesday. Sparta officials said their captain had rejected offers from a number of foreign teams.


Wednesday should be hot and humid with temperatures reaching 29 degrees Celsius. Scattered thunderstorms are expected throughout the country.