News

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Foreign Minister announces plan to withdraw Czech troops from Iraq

Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg announced on Sunday that he was working on a plan to pull Czech forces out of Iraq. In an interview with Vaclav Moravec on Czech Television, Mr. Schwarzenberg said that the proposal would affect soldiers based in the Southern Iraqi town of Basra, but not those stationed in Baghdad. Mr. Schwarzenberg's announcement follows similar statements from the British and American governments - in recent months both have declared that they are planning to withdraw a number of their troops from Iraq. According to Mr. Schwarzenberg, no date has been fixed for the Czech troops' withdrawal just yet, as this still needs to be negotiated with allied forces. Around 100 Czech servicemen are currently posted in Iraq. Three of them are set to stay on and train Iraqi soldiers as part of the NATO mission in Baghdad.

America to have final say on missile deployment says Schwarzenberg

In the same interview, Foreign Minister Schwarzenberg clarified that it would be the United States, and not NATO, who would have the final say on whether to deploy a counter-missile from the proposed missile-defence system to be built in the Czech Republic and Poland. Mr. Schwarzenberg stated that while the missile-defence shield that the US plans to build in the Czech Republic would fit in with NATO's 'political architecture', it would be United States that made any decisions on 'button pushing'. This, he said, was because there would be no time for consultation in a crisis. If approved by the Czech parliament, the radar base would be part of the United States' global missile defence programme. It is set to house around 200 US soldiers and civilians and go into operation in 2011.

Finance Ministry proposes overhaul of tax-exemption system

In another interview with Vaclav Moravec, the Deputy Finance Minister, Ivan Fuksa, said that he was planning to review the system of tax exemptions in the Czech Republic. Mr. Fuksa wants to annul around 120 of the country's 400 or so tax exemptions, most controversially, the tax exemptions that Czech mortgage owners currently enjoy. Mr. Fuksa told Czech Television that he was trying to systematize a chaotic tax-exemption structure, citing zoos, betting-shops and trade unions as organizations currently experiencing 'nonsensical' tax-breaks. But the opposition Social Democrats are against the proposed reforms, saying that mortgage owners are being stung twice - firstly by a rise in VAT, which has, they calculate, put the price of mortgages up by around 4%, and then by this proposal to end tax exemptions on mortgages. Mr. Fuksa responds that the details of the proposal are still to be worked out, but that he hopes to bring a bill to parliament by the end of this year.

Prima: Nurses involved in baby mix-up to be questioned

Three nurses who were on duty when babies Nicole and Veronica were accidentally swapped are to be questioned by police, reported TV Prima on Saturday. One of the nurses has been suspended from duty following the disclosure of the mix-up. According to Prima, the three nurses, who have not been named, are wanted for questioning in connection with charges of gross professional misconduct. The hospital has declined to comment.

Photos taken by one of the parents involved show that his child was not allocated a number, written directly onto the skin to avoid confusion, as is normally the case. These photos are being handed over to the police as evidence. The parents of Nicole and Veronica met face-to-face this week, to discuss their next move. It was agreed that the girls will be handed over to their biological parents before their first birthday on the 9th of December.

Czech Greens meet to discuss their role in coalition

Leading members of the Czech Green Party have started discussing their role in the governing coalition at a conference in Brno. In the last week, factions of the party have suggested withdrawing from the ruling coalition, unhappy with what they call a 'lack of influence' in the government. But the party's six deputies in the lower house are against the idea, and in the run up to the meeting, the leader of the Czech Greens Martin Bursik said that his party was enjoying its strongest position ever in Czech politics, and that he was not going to let this be compromised by in-party bickering.

Greens discuss successor to Education Minister Kuchtova

Also on the agenda at the Green Party's Sunday conference is finding a successor to Education Minister Dana Kuchtova, who resigned this week. While a candidate is expected to be put forward today by the party's leading members, leader of the Greens Martin Bursik wants further consultation with those elsewhere in the party, before any decision is taken. At the moment, Ms. Kuchtova's former deputy Dusan Luzny is hotly-tipped to replace her at the helm, though Green MP Olga Zubova and former rector of Zlin University, Petr Saha, have also been mentioned in connection with the post.

Abstract painting fetches record amount at Czech auction

A painting by Czech artist Frantisek Kupka has been sold at auction for 22.1 million CZK (1.1 million USD), becoming the most expensive work of art ever to be sold at a Czech auction. The painting, called Elevation IV, was created in 1938 and has been described as 'abstraction at its purest'. Previously, the most expensive painting to be sold at a Czech auction had been another work by Mr. Kupka, which fetched 13.4 million CZK in May this year.

Beer sales for first eight months of this year up by 2.2%

Domestic beer sales for the first eight months of this year are up by 2.2% on last year's figures, revealed the Czech Beer and Malt Association on Sunday. But a surprise came in the form of beer sales for the months of July and August, which had been unexpectedly low. July and August's beer sales were actually down on last year's - a result which those in the industry are attributing to last year's exceptionally strong sales throughout the summer months. Despite the setback, sales of Czech beer are expected to go up by somewhere in the region of 2 - 3% this year. And beer production is expected to rise above the golden 20 million hectoliter mark for the first time. Last year, the Czech Republic produced some 19.8 million hectoliters of beer.

Vaclav Havel's Forum 2000 kicks-off in Prague

Sunday sees the launch of the 11th Forum 2000, a conference held by former Czech President Vaclav Havel, and attracting prominent figures from all over the world. The theme for this 11th Forum is 'Freedom and Responsibility', and guests include former US Foreign Secretary Madeleine Albright, Nobel peace-prize winner Shirin Ebadi, and former head of the World Bank Paul Wolfowitz. Forum 2000 will run until Tuesday, and consists of seminars, workshops, roundtables and exhibitions. More information can be found at www.forum2000.cz.

Czech women's basketball team saves face with victory against Lithuania

The Czech Women's Basketball team has won its play-off for fifth place in the European Basketball Championships. The Czechs, who won the competition last year, secured fifth spot by beating Lithuania 93:54 on Sunday. The Czech team sought to retain the European title, but was knocked out of the running by a surprise defeat to Belarus on Thursday. This victory against Lithuania guarantees the Czech team a place in next year's Olympic Games.

Weather

The rest of the weekend will be overcast, but with the occasional spell of sunshine. This weather pattern should continue into the beginning of next week. Temperatures over the next couple of days should range from 12-16 degrees Celsius.