News

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President dismisses EU ambassador

President Vaclav Klaus has dismissed the Czech Republic's ambassador to the European Union Jan Kohout. A spokesman for Mr Klaus told the Czech Press Agency on Wednesday that the President had recalled Mr Kohout in accordance with the government's instructions and that he would be replaced by the former Agriculture Minister Milena Vicenova by the end of the year.

Mr Kohout's tenure as Czech ambassador to Brussels had been due to expire in May 2008. Czech Deputy Prime Minister Alexandr Vondra had previously said that Mr Kohout was being dismissed early to give his successor time to prepare for the Czech Republic's presidency of the EU at the beginning of 2009. Some critics have claimed, however, that the move is politically motivated. Mr Kohout is a member of the opposition Social Democratic Party.

Senate passes financial reform bill

As expected the government's financial reform package has been passed by the Czech Senate. 49 out of 80 senators present voted for the legislation, which will introduce controversial new changes to the countries tax and welfare systems. The Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek has repeatedly said that the reforms are needed to curb a rampant public-spending deficit. The reforms will now have to be signed by President Vaclav Klaus before they can be enacted.

Cabinet approves draft budget

A spokeswoman for the Czech government has told journalists that the ruling cabinet has unanimously approved the draft budget for 2008. The draft budget submitted by the Finance Ministry reckons on a deficit of 70.8 billion Czech crowns or 3.5 billion US dollars. This amounts to 2.95 percent of GDP just below the crucial 3-percent limit set by the EU as one of the criteria for adopting the euro.

Areas that will be receiving significantly more money include education, culture and agriculture. The budget still has to pass a vote in the lower house of parliament where the centre-right governing coalition has a slender majority, which depends on the support of rebel MPs from the Social Democrat opposition.

Health insurer bows to doctors' demands

The Czech Republic's largest health insurer VZP has bowed to demands from general practitioners to increase its payments to doctors for treating its subscribers. The moves take place after doctors across the country staged their third one-day strike of the year on Wednesday in protest at what union representatives say are poor pay conditions. The Association of Czech GPs maintains that primary medical care is deeply undervalued in this country, which puts financial pressures on doctors and limits their ability to provide quality services.

In bowing to the doctors' demands for higher fees, the VZP health insurer said it would now have to cancel planned extra payments for doctor's surgeries that were performing particularly well or operating in areas where there was a shortage of medical services.

New centre for humanitarian aid to be established

Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek announced on Wednesday that the Czech Ministry for Foreign Affairs is to establish a new centre to coordinate development and humanitarian projects abroad. Foreign aid experts had complained in the past that Czech humanitarian aid was inefficient because it lacked a unified system, which led to individual ministries often drafting and implementing projects independently of each other. A draft bill on establishing the development centre is expected to be ready by the end of the year.

The Czech Republic allocated around 3.6 billion crowns (approximately 180 million US dollars) for foreign development aid last year. This money mainly went to projects in so-called priority countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Angola, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Yemen, Moldova, Mongolia, Serbia, Montenegro, Vietnam and Zambia.

Princess Anne to visit the Czech Republic

Buckingham Palace has informed the Czech Press Agency that Princess Anne is to visit the Czech Republic next month. The princess will be here from the 14th to the 16th of October. Her schedule includes a meeting with President Vaclav Klaus as well as a number of meetings with representatives of various charities. Princess Anne, who is a keen horsewoman, is also expected to attend the Czech Grand National in the east Bohemian town of Pardubice.

New bill on liability for environmental damage approved by government

The Environment Minister and Green Party leader Martin Bursik announced on Wednesday that the ruling cabinet had approved a draft bill, which would make polluters liable for any environmental damage they cause. It will also require businesses to take out mandatory insurance to cover the risk of their causing damage to the environment. The move is in response to EU directives that have been in effect since April and which require countries to enact legislation that clearly stipulates liability for environmental damage.

The EU directives were approved in 2004 in response to a number of major ecological disasters in Europe such as the sinking of the Erika oil tanker off the coast of France in 1999 which caused extensive damage to coastlines and marine life.

New poll indicates Social Democrats are now most popular party

A new opinion poll by the CVVM institute suggests that the opposition Social Democrats are now the most popular party in the country. According to the survey, if an election were to be held now, the Social Democrats would win 33 percent of the vote ahead of the Civic Democrats who would get 31 percent. The Civic Democrats' partners in the coalition government, the Greens and the Christian Democrats would get 10 percent and 9 percent respectively. The Communist Party would receive 14.5 percent.

It is the second opinion poll in a week to show that the Social Democrats have overtaken the Civic Democrats as the most popular party. Before that, the last time the Social Democrats had been ahead of their main rivals was in December 2002.

Czech grain prices rise following poor harvests across Europe

Average grain prices have risen by as much as 10 percent in the last two weeks and are twice as high as they were a year ago according to the president of the Czech Agricultural Chamber Jan Veleba. Mr Veleba blamed the increase on poor harvests elsewhere in Europe as well as on the growing use of arable land for bio-fuels and declining world-grain reserves, which are at their lowest level since 1974.

Although the Czech Republic's grain harvest was better this year than it was in 2006, Mr Veleba says prices are rising due to demand from major grain consumers such as Poland, Hungary, France and Germany, where this year's yields were poor. He has also said it is possible that the Czech Republic may face a shortage of grain next spring and will have to purchase it abroad for prices even higher than the current ones.

Czech Chamber of Commerce calls for abolishment of investment incentives

The Czech Chamber of Commerce has called on the Minister of Trade and Industry Martin Riman to abolish foreign investment incentives. The chairman of the chamber Jaromir Drabek said on Wednesday that incentives used to attract investment such as tax breaks and financial support for job creation gave many foreign firms an unfair advantage on the Czech market. He also added that many local businesses were suffering because they could not hold on to qualified personnel who were going to work for incoming foreign companies.

Mr Riman for his part said he himself agreed with most of Mr Drabek's concerns but that there was currently not enough political support in the government for a complete abolition of investment incentives. Nevertheless, he did say that legislation had been introduced in the spring which was meant to tighten up the investment incentive system and that the effect of these new laws would assessed at the start of next year.

iDnes: Czech Airlines to launch cheap flights

According to the iDnes news website, the national air carrier Czech Airlines (CSA) plans to offer cheap flights to 36 destinations around Europe for as little as 1990 Czech crowns (100 US dollars). iDnes reports that the move is an attempt by CSA to compete with budget carriers like Ryanair and EasyJet. The cheap flights will be available for destinations like Paris and Moscow, and tickets will also include refreshments unlike most cut-price airlines.

Weather

The weather is expected to be clear with occasional cloud. Highest temperatures should range between 14 and 18 degrees Celsius.