News

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Iraqi parliamentary chairman calls for greater Czech, EU role in Iraq

Iraqi parliamentary chairman Mahmoud Mashadani, heading a delegation on a four-day visit to Prague, has told journalists that the Czech Republic as well as other EU countries should play a greater role in the economic transformation, as well as training of security forces, in Iraq. Mr Mashadani and other Iraqi officials have met with Czech representatives including the head of the lower house Miloslav Vlcek. On Thursday the Iraqi politician stressed that Czechs should make use of historic past cooperation between the two countries, going back decades. The Czech Republic began contributing to renewal projects in Iraq in 2003. The Foreign Ministry earmarked almost 50 million crowns (the equivalent of around 2.5 million US dollars) to projects in the years 2004 to 2006.

Lower house chairman Miloslav Vlcek, meanwhile, has made clear more Iraqi parliamentarians will be invited to the Czech Republic in the future to discuss former Czechoslovakia's own transformation from a totalitarian regime to a democratic state.

President signs legislation on finance reform

President Vaclav Klaus has signed the country's bill on public finance reform; his spokesman Petr Hajek made the information public on Friday. The legislation, bringing changes to taxation, social security, and health care, is aimed at cutting the country's debt. The opposition is opposed to the bill, with the largest opposition party saying it will lodge a complaint at the Constitutional Court. The Czech president has reportedly admitted the legislation was not without flaws, although he did not think they contradicted the Constitution, Mr Hajek said. Under the new bill, which takes effect on January 1st, Czechs will, for example, pay cash for visits to doctors' surgeries as well as to hospitals. Also, those on sick leave will not receive payment for their first three days off. Among other changes, the legislation also introduces a flat income tax rate, and raises VAT on foodstuffs and medicines.

Report critical on state of environment

The Environment Ministry has released a report on the state of the Czech environment for 2006 which says that the Czech Republic is lagging behind other European countries in a number of environmental areas. The Minister for the Environment Martin Bursik called the results of the report "alarming" on Friday. According to the information, sixty-two percent of Czechs breathe air containing excess levels of soft dust particles and air pollution is increasing. Mr Bursik has pointed to a dramatic increase in the number of children suffering from allergies. The situation could improve through EU funds, as the government intends to replace incinerators that are not environment-friendly. Also, in the future, drivers' vehicles will have to undergo stricter technical controls, and a road tax amendment will give preferential treatment to cars using cleaner types of fuel. The report reveals the most serious levels of air pollution are found in parts of North Moravia, where large industrial companies are concentrated, as well as in the Czech capital.

Prague bans neo-Nazi march through Prague's Jewish quarter

Prague Town Hall has decided to ban a planned neo-Nazi march through Prague's Jewish quarter; it was originally announced to take place on the 10th of November. That date marks the anniversary of Kristallnacht, the Nazi pogrom against Jews that took place in Germany in 1938. Town Hall officials have said such a march would promote hatred and intolerance towards citizens on the basis of religion or ethnicity. The march was previously given permission as it was officially put forward as a protest against the Czech mission in Iraq. Organizers of the march said earlier this week they planned to postpone the event until November 17th; but the site on that date has already been booked by the Jewish Liberal Union.

Parents of switched newborns meet

Two little girls, who were accidentally switched shortly after birth nine months ago at a Trebic hospital, will be returned to their proper biological parents. The babies' parents met at an undisclosed location on Thursday, agreeing that such a solution - although difficult - would be best for both families. Before the plan goes into effect the couples and children will reportedly spend time together, including going on holiday, to help the little girls grow accustomed to their real parents. The couples have agreed on exchanging the children shortly before the girls' birthdays in early December.

Court halts prosecution of former police officer in assault case

A Prague district court has ruled that former police officer Tomas Cermak did not commit a crime during an incident last year involving himself and Katerina Jacques, then head of the Government Office human rights section, now MP for the Green Party. On Friday the court ruled to halt Mr Cermak's prosecution. The state attorney has filed a complaint against the verdict with a higher-instance court. A May Day neo-Nazi demonstration in Prague in 2006 saw conflict ensue between police monitoring the event and several Green Party members including Mrs Jacques, there to protest the rally. Images of Mr Cermak subduing Jacques were caught on tape. The officer was dismissed from the police force and charged with abuse of power of a public official, bodily harm and restriction of personal freedom.

Helsinki Committee criticises proposed amendment to foreigners, asylum legislation

The Czech Helsinki Committee has criticised a planned amendment to the law on foreigners and asylum being proposed by the government. The organisation has made clear that - in its view - the implementation of the bill will serve to strengthen xenophobia among parts of the populace. According to the organisation, the amendment will "criminalise" migrants as a group. The committee has also criticised a tougher approach to asylum seekers or stricter conditions for foreigners marrying Czech nationals. The Interior Ministry has so far defended the draft by indicating that tougher legislation was needed for the Czech Republic to meet all requirements for the Schengen zone.

Sparta, Mlada Boleslav through to second round of UEFA Cup

Two Czech football sides, Sparta Prague and Mlada Boleslav, squeaked past their opponents on Thursday to make it through to the second stage of the UEFA Cup. Both teams won on penalties. Sparta defeated Danish side Odense 4:3 on spot kicks, with the winning goal coming from Michal Kadlec. Mlada Boleslav, meanwhile, downed Palermo 4:2 on penalties in an equally dramatic match in Italy.

Czech women's basketball team falls to Belarus in European Championship

The Czech women's basketball team will not have a chance to repeat last year's European Championship triumph after losing in a shock upset to Belarus on Thursday. The women's team was beaten by a score of 52:46, despite getting off to a strong start and leading 10:2 in the opening minutes. But Belarus fought back to take the match. The Czechs will now play to secure and 8th to 5th spot in the overall standings. The team needs to win its next two matches in order to earn a qualification spot for next year's Olympic Games.

Weather

Partly cloudy skies with some sunny periods are expected into the weekend. Daytime temperatures should reach highs of around 19 degrees Celsius.