News

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Schwarzenberg meets Rice in Washington

Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg has met with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Washington to discuss US-Czech relations as well as a proposed US radar base on Czech territory. Speaking alongside Ms Rice ahead of their meeting, Mr Schwarzenberg voiced support for the US plan, while the US secretary of state said anti-missile projects were a key element of efforts to counter both terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction. Washington announced in January plans to extend its still-unproven missile shield into Europe to counter potential missile attacks from what it calls "rogue states" such as Iran and North Korea. The radar base hosted by the Czech Republic would complement an installation in Poland manned with ten interceptor rockets. Public opinion in the Czech Republic remains mixed over the idea of the Czechs hosting a US base.

Czech army may send reconstruction team to Afghanistan

The Czech military is considering sending a special reconstruction team to Afghanistan that would operate in the province of Logar, southeast of the capital Kabul, in 2009. Currently, another Czech reconstruction team is operating in the north of the country, involving some 83 personnel cooperating with Danish and German soldiers. Deputy Defence Minister Martin Bartak said on Friday that the military was also considering plans for again deploying elite special forces from the Czech Republic to Afghanistan (in 2008). Earlier Czech special forces served in the combat zone in Afghanistan - taking part in missions against Taliban militia as part of the US-led operation "Enduring Freedom".

Trade unions against government's reform package

Czech trade unions have come out resolutely against the government's planned fiscal reforms: the leadership of the CMKOS trade union umbrella organisation announced on Friday that reforms proposed by the current centre-right cabinet would worsen conditions for average or below-average income earners. The group's chairman, Milan Stech, also said that the government's plans would not help cut the public budget deficit, and said a broader public debate and political consensus was needed on the issue. It was in early April that Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek's government first presented its draft package of reforms aimed at lowering taxes and cutting public spending. The draft is set to be debated in the Chamber of Deputies this June.

Social Democrats oppose planned health care fees

In related news, the opposition Social Democrats have said they are resolutely against the government's plan to introduce patients' fees for health care, saying they would abolish them upon returning to power. The statements were made by the party's leader Jiri Paroubek on Friday. Mr Paroubek said that the intention to introduce fees for visits to the doctors' as well as for prescribed medicines was an "awkward attack on social certainties". Under the plans patients would pay 30 crowns (1 US dollar and fifty cents) per item in prescriptions, 60 crowns day in the hospital, and 90 crowns for emergency treatment. The coaltion government is aiming to see the changes implemented as part of its overall reform package in 2008.

Daily: man in charge of Europol IT a former communist-era agent

Czech newspaper Lidove Noviny has reported that a former agent of communist Czechoslovakia's military counter-intelligence has been heading the IT department of the European Police Office known as Europol. According to the daily, the former agent's file was established in 1981 but was shredded after ten months. The former agent, Pavel Cincar, received negative lustration certificates in the 1990s; he has reacted by saying that "someone had used common sense" in understanding that over his ten months as an agent "he couldn't have done much". Mr Cincar's vetting history is just one of many that have come under review in an audit ordered by the interior minister.

Zlin given record fine by ant-trust office

The Czech anti-trust office has fined own hall in Moravia's Zlin a record 3 million crowns or roughly 145,000 US dollars for mistakes leading to bad tenders, the highest fine ever given for such a case. The anti-trust office investigated some 20 tenders by Zlin for almost one year. Anti-corruption police are also looking into a number of them. The town of Zlin has also violated the law in similar cases in the past with the highest fine before now reaching 700,000 crowns.

Wanted Russian banker in custody

It has been revealed that police have arrested an internationally-wanted Russian banker at a refugee centre in eastern Moravia. The banker, Ilya Stashevski, was arrested in late March and has since been in custody. He has lodged a complaint against his detainment. Mr Stashevski is believed to have embezzled 231 million US dollars from the Russian manufacturer of MiG fighter jets in a scheme in which funds were allegedly transferred to a fictitious firm abroad.

Bus carrying Belarusian, Russian passengers, crashes in Rakovnik region

A bus carrying Belarusian and Russian tourists crashed near Rakovnik, central Bohemia on Friday, resulting in light as well as more serious injuries - namely fractures and concussions among passengers - requiring hospital attention. Four people - including the driver - received attention at a hospital. The cause of the crash remains unknown but is being investigated.

Berdych comes back from brink at Monte Carlo

Czech tennis player Tomas Berdych has made it to the semi-final of the Monte Carlo Masters series after turning around a losing match. The Czech was a set and 3 games down when he switched into overdrive against Swede Robin Soederling, winning the final 12 games in a row. The match ended 5:7, 6:3, 6:0. Berdych will next face either German player Philipp Kohlschreiber or the defending champion, Spain's Rafael Nadal.

Red Wings - with goalie Dominik Hasek - lose 2nd game in row against Calgary Flames

Ice hockey's Detroit Red Wings - with goaltender Dominik Hasek - have lost their second-straight game in their series against the Calgary Flames in the first round of the NHL playoffs. Hasek and co. were beaten on Thursday by a score of 3:2. The Czech keeper successfully turned away 18 shots. The series is now tied at two apiece. Hasek, who is 42, is seeking his second Stanley Cup after first winning it with Detroit in 2002.

Weather

Partly clear skies are expected into the weekend with daytime temperatures on Saturday reaching highs of around 16 degrees Celsius.