News

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Ministry: US visa waiver programme could extend to Czech Republic in two years

The Foreign Ministry has indicated that earlier reports that the Czech Republic might be eligible for the United States' visa waiver programme in one year's time were too optimistic, estimating that such a move would realistically take about two years. The ministry nevertheless noted progress on the issue of visa waiver in the US this week. Both houses of the US Congress on Wednesday discussed visa-free conditions, and unofficial reports have suggested legislation changes agreed could see exceptions made for countries not meeting a current 3 percent threshold. Under the waiver programme, rejected US visa applications per country must not exceed 3 percent over three years.

But under proposed changes, countries not breaching a ten percent threshold over one year could potentially be eligible. The Czech Republic, for example, sees around nine percent of its applications for US visas rejected annually.

I'm Travelling, Detur clients continue to return from abroad

More clients - stranded abroad after the I'm Travelling and Detur travel agencies declared bankruptcy this week - have returned to the Czech Republic. 28 returned from the Greek island of Corfu on Thursday, while an additional 239 people will return from holidays in Turkey on Friday. The news was released by Vaclav Balek, the spokesman for the Ceska Pojistovna insurance company where the travel agencies were insured against insolvency. Mr Balek said that steps had been taken for clients still abroad to be able to complete their paid vacations rather than having to cut their holidays short. So far Ceska Pojistovna has reportedly been able to make use of chartered flights booked in advance by I'm Travelling and sister company Detur.

Klaus, Sobotka meet to discuss presidential election set for next year

President Vaclav Klaus and Senate chairman and fellow Civic Democrat Premysl Sobotka have agreed that the next presidential election should be held as soon as the Czech constitution allows, meaning soon after February 7th, 2008. The president and Senate chairman met on Thursday to discuss the matter, but will also have to meet with the head of the lower house Miloslav Vlcek, of the Social Democratic Party. The election of the president could take place between the 7th of February and 7th of March next year. Mr Klaus is the only official candidate so far, although former foreign minister Jiri Dienstbier has indicated a desire to run. Not long ago the head of the Social Democrats, Jiri Paroubek, said his party was considering Mr Dienstbier's nomination.

Press: former trade and industry minister could replace Kohout as ambassador to EU

Czech newspaper Lidove Noviny has reported that Vladimir Dlouhy - a former trade and industry minister, as well as former deputy chairman of the Civic Democratic Alliance - could replace Jan Kohout in the post of Czech ambassador to the European Union. The government said this week it wanted to replace Mr Kohout before his mandate officially expired in May. It said this was in order to give his successor more time in the job before the country takes up the six month EU presidency in January 2009. According to Lidove Noviny, Vladimir Dlouhy has already received the offer and has until the end of the week to reach a decision. By comparison, Internet server Euro on Thursday downplayed the likelihood of Mr Dlouhy getting the job, saying he was on vacation until August.

Social Democrats to boycott governmental health commission

The Social Democrats will not send their representatives to the governmental commission that is to analyse the long-term development of health care, David Rath, the party's shadow health minister and chairman of the Chamber of Deputies health committee told journalists on Thursday. He said that his party had decided on the move as it did not consider Health Minister Tomas Julinek, of the ruling Civic Democratic Party, a serious partner. In mid-June, Julinek asked chairmen of all parties to nominate members to the commission to help draft reform of the health care sector.

Legislation to require firms to acquaint consumers with full costs

The Finance Ministry is preparing a legislation amendment that would require companies to always acquaint consumers with the full cost of products and services. Consumer groups, for example, have criticised travel agencies for tacking additional charges onto package vacations. One group has even filed a lawsuit against one agency for the practice. Deputy Finance Minister Ivan Fuksa has said the amendment will require agencies to cite any additional fees outright. According to Mr Fuksa, EU guidelines currently pertain to products rather than services.

Czech central bank (CNB) raises key interest rate

A spokeswoman for the Czech central bank has revealed the bank raised its key interest rate by a quarter of a point to 3.0 percent on Thursday in order to contain inflation risks at a time of robust growth. At mortgage bank Hypotecni Banka, managing director Jan Sadil told the AFP news agency the increase was "in line with what financial markets expected". Banking circles have said a further increase by the end of the year could not be ruled out. According top Ales Michl, of Raiffeisenbank, the bank reacted to three factors this year: household consumption, which has been the strongest in the last three years, as well a hike in salaries, the sharpest in the last five years, and the weakness of the Czech crown against the euro.

Fifty-six Kazak-Czechs return to Czech Republic

56 out of 170 Kazak-Czechs were repatriated to the Czech Republic on Thursday as part of an Interior Ministry plan to help remaining ethnic Czechs in Kazakhstan return to their "original" homeland. Two more flights will follow. The Czech community in Kazakhstan is made up of the descendents of family members who left Bohemia in the mid-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Last year the Interior Ministry decided to extend resettlement invitations because economic and security conditions for ethnic Czechs in Kazakhstan had grown increasingly worse in recent years. The Kazak-Czechs arriving now follow approximately 650 Czechs from Kazakhstan who relocated back to the Czech Republic in the late 1990s.

Majority of Central Bohemian swimming ponds, bathing areas, declared safe

Authorities for have declared the majority of bathing areas or swimming ponds in Central Bohemia currently safe, although warnings have been issued for a number of swimming sites, for example, two ponds in the areas of Brandys nad Labem and Cesky Raj, where a higher concentration of cyanobacteria has registered. The quality of the water there worsened last week. In all, the water quality is monitored at around thirty bathing areas in Central Bohemia.

Weather

Partly cloudy conditions are expected with a possibility of rainfall. Daytime highs should reach around 24 degrees Celsius.