News

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Havel defends remarks on Polish democracy

Former Czech president Vaclav Havel has tempered comments he made that were interpreted as a warning about the state of Polish democracy. Speaking at the launch of the Polish edition of his latest book Please Be Brief, Mr Havel caused a storm by saying it would be in the interest of Polish democracy if the country were to hold early elections as soon as possible and arranged for them to be monitored by international observers.

His remarks were criticised by commentators in Poland as a smear on the reputation of the country's democracy. Mr Havel later said that he had not intended his comments as an attack on Poland's political system, but maintained that international observers would help ease the tense situation surrounding the upcoming elections in Poland following the collapse of the rightist government led by the controversial Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kacynski.

Czech Republic scores highly in democracy survey

A new survey by the highly respected Economist Intelligence Unit has placed the Czech Republic among the world's leading democracies. The London-based think tank ranked the Czech Republic in 18th place among an elite group of 28 fully functioning democratic societies. The report was compiled by a group of international experts on the basis of various criteria such as the electoral process, the functioning of government, and political participation. The Czech Republic scored better than many other countries in the region, including Slovakia and Hungary, which the report described as "flawed" democracies.

Czech government announces major investment in the Brdy region

The Czech government has decided to set up a special commission for the development of the Brdy area, the site of a controversial proposed US radar base. The government announced its decision on Wednesday after meeting with the mayors of municipalities in the central Bohemian region. It said hundreds of millions of crowns would be invested in the area regardless of whether the American radar base was eventually built there. Most of the 15 mayors who attended the meeting said they welcomed the prospect of investment into the economically neglected region, but insisted that this would not change their opposition to the proposed radar.

The United States wants to construct a radar facility in Brdy as part of a missile defence system aimed at countering possible attacks from so-called rogue states such as Iran. Polls show that a majority of Czechs are against the proposal even though it has the tentative support of the centre-right government. A final decision on the base is expected early next year.

Aktualne.cz: Public finance debt to rise by 95 billion

The aktualne.cz news website has reported that Czech public spending debt should increase by 95 billion Czech crowns or 4.6 billion US dollars next year. Referring to data in the draft state budget released by the Ministry of Finance on Monday, the website reported that there will be a marked rise in investment into the transport infrastructure, although the Education Ministry and the Czech Academy of Sciences would receive less money. Aktualne.cz also reckons that public spending in 2008 will reach 2.95 percent of GDP, just below the crucial 3-percent limit set by the EU for the adoption of the euro.

Necas: first phase of pension reform could be passed this year

The Czech Labour Minister Petr Necas said on Wednesday that he thinks the first phase of his proposed pension reforms could be passed by parliament before the end of this year. Mr Necas says he hopes to reach a cross-party consensus on the reforms before putting them before parliament for approval. Among other things, the mooted reforms include raising the state pension age and increasing the obligatory number of years people should be making pension contributions before being entitled to retire.

Government to invest millions in Schengen changeover

The Czech government has announced that it will be spending 187 million Czech crowns or 9 million US dollars on improving police radio communication systems as part of the country's preparations for entering the Schengen area. The Czech Republic will be joining the so-called Schengen zone on 1 January 2008, a move which will result in the lifting of the country's border controls with other EU member states.

Acid thrown in supermarket in Nejdek

A supermarket had to be evacuated in the Central Bohemian town of Nejdek on Wednesday after an unidentified assailant threw a plastic bag full of an unknown chemical substance into the store. Police say initial investigations seem to indicate that the substance is some form of acid. Two women who came into contact with the chemical have been taken to hospital for observation. The reason for the attack is not yet known.

Liberec region records sharp increase in STD infections

The Liberec region has recorded a sharp rise in the rate of HIV, hepatitis B and syphilis infections. Five new cases of HIV were recorded in the region in the first six months of 2007, two more than were recorded in the first six months of the previous two years.

In the same period, there were also 13 new cases of hepatitis B, more than double the amount for the whole of 2006, and 29 new cases of syphilis (as opposed to 18 cases over the previous twelve months). Experts have blamed the increases in infections in the region on unsafe sexual practices, particularly the lack of condom use. They also warn that the real rate of infections could be up to ten times higher than the official figures.

Baros injured for upcoming internationals

Czech footballer Milan Baroš will not be available for the upcoming international matches against San Marino and Ireland. The striker injured his back while training with the international squad on Wednesday and will not be able to play in the Euro 2008 qualifiers, which are being played on Saturday and Wednesday. Defenders Marek Jankulovski and Tomas Ujfalusi, who are carrying knocks, were also unable to complete the same training session, but have so far not been ruled out of the next two games.

Weather

Meteorologists have warned that they expect the Czech Republic to be hit by heavy rains and gale force winds over the next few days. The weather should become steadily worse on Wednesday night and conditions will remain stormy until Friday. Highest temperatures are currently forecast to range between 11 and 15 degrees Celsius.