News

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Skoda workers go on strike

Workers at the Skoda Auto car plant in Mlada Boleslav have gone on strike in demand of higher pay. Thousands of employees downed tools for two and a half hours during the first shift of the day, with later shifts planning to do likewise. The strike means no cars will be produced at the factory on Tuesday; the company says it expects to lose 55 million crowns (over 2.5 million USD). On Friday Skoda Auto management withdrew an offer of a 13-percent pay rise for employees, and returned to an earlier proposal to increase wages by 7.5 percent.

Figures released on Monday showed that March was the most successful month in the history of the company. Last month Skoda Auto recorded over 60,000 vehicles sold, which represented a year-on-year rise of almost 15 percent. Over half of sales in the first quarter of this year were in western Europe.

Police investigate suspected fraud at CKA bail-out agency

The police have launched an investigation into suspected extensive fraud at the CKA state-run bail-out agency, Mlada Fronta Dnes reported on Tuesday. The investigation is focused on a highly dubious transaction in which a package of several hundred claims worth 38 billion crowns was purchased for a mere 3.4 billion. According to the daily, Pavel Tykac and Jan Dienstl, chief executives of the former financial group Motoinvest, provided the money for the purchase. A report by the Supreme Audit Office for 2004 says that CKA lost several hundred million crowns by including certain claims in the joint sale. A number of top politicians have been questioned in connection with the case, among them former finance minister Vlastimil Tlusty and the speaker of the lower house Miloslav Vlcek. No one has been charged to date.

Germany not against Czech-US visa free relations

Germany is not opposed to the idea of Czechs having visa-free relations with the United States, the German Minister for Europe Guenter Gloser said in Prague on Tuesday after talks with the Czech Deputy Prime Minister for European Affairs Alexander Vondra. Mr. Gloser was at pains to clear up a misunderstanding between the two countries after the Czech daily Mlada Fronta Dnes wrote that the German ambassador to Washington Klaus Scharioth had sought to complicate the Czech Republic's efforts to be included in the US visa waiver programme. This was allegedly a misunderstanding that arose after Germany, as the EU president, sent Washington a letter on behalf of all the EU newcomers stating their reservations with regard to the US visa legislation and forgot to include the Czech Republic. The Czech Foreign Ministry officially protested against this but the mistake was later clarified.

Czech Defense Minister to hold talks with US officials

The planned stationing of a US radar base in the Czech Republic and the abolition of U.S. visas for Czechs will be the main topics of Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg's upcoming visit to the United States. Foreign Minster Schwarzenberg leaves for the US on Wednesday for four days of talks with US top officials. The Czech Republic recently complied with a US request to start talks on the possible stationing of a radar base on its territory. The base would be part of a US missile defense shield stationed jointly in the Czech Republic and Poland. No commitment has as yet been made and the talks are expected to last until the end of the year. The Czech political scene is divided on the issue and opinion polls suggest that the public is against it.

Critics say the US missile defense shield will not meet Europe's defense needs and Russia views the US missile base as a threat to its security. Washington has promised Moscow "detailed discussions" about the plan.

Defense ministry employee demoted after reporting dubious transactions

A defense ministry official has been demoted after reporting dubious transactions at the ministry, according to the internet site Novinky. When the police raided the defense ministry several weeks ago on suspicion of extensive fraud, the head of military construction Robert Bochnicek was reportedly the only high placed ministry employee who spoke openly about dubious transactions, proffered bribes and undercover deals at the ministry. He was demoted shortly after, on the grounds of an old transgression - for using a defense ministry car for other than work purposes. Bochnicek says he paid a 17 thousand crown fine at the time and considered the matter closed. He is now considering filing a lawsuit against the ministry.

Noise pollution complaint turned down by Prague court

A Prague court has turned down a joint complaint by Prague inhabitants about excessive noise levels in the vicinity of the highway cutting through the city centre. This is the first ever attempt by the city's inhabitants to file an organized suite in connection with excessive noise pollution in the capital. Over 1,000 people backed the action. A study indicates that permitted noise levels are exceeded both during the day and night hours. The town hall says there is no way to reduce the noise short of closing down the highway. Work is underway on the construction of a by-pass which would reduce the amount of traffic in the city centre.

Number of drink driving deaths has decreased

The Czech Republic has made the most progress in reducing drink-driving deaths in Europe but the number of victims has risen in other countries, including Britain, according to a report published by the Brussels-based European Transport Safety Council. Deaths from alcohol-related accidents in the Czech Republic fell 11 percent faster than other road deaths between 1996 and 2005, followed by Germany and Poland with falls of about 6 and 5 percent, respectively, the report said. Keys to bringing down the death rate were the blood-alcohol limits for legal driving, which vary from country to country, as well as testing of drivers by police, which remains patchy in many EU countries.

Drink-driving and speeding is still the most frequent cause of road accidents in the Czech Republic but the traffic police regularly test drivers within big road safety operations. Last year the Czech Republic introduced a strict new road legislation with tough penalties for both speeding and drink-driving.

Thirteen year old suspected of killing boy aged four

A thirteen-year-old boy is suspected of killing of a boy aged four at Nove Dvory in central Bohemia, Czech Television reported. Police found the child's body several hundred metres from his home; when a subsequent post-mortem found that he had been strangled they began treating the case as murder. Because of the alleged perpetrator's young age no details have been released.

Czech airline CSA raises passenger traffic in first quarter

The Czech state-controlled airline CSA carried 1.06 million passengers during the first three months of the year, 5.9 percent more than during the same period in 2006, the airline announced on Tuesday. Last year, CSA carried 5.5 million passengers, a 4.7-percent increase on 2005. The cash-strapped airline hopes to return to profit in 2008 following a major restructuring programme launched in 2006 which includes the shedding of non-core activities.

Weather

The unusually warm weather we've been having is set to end on Tuesday evening, with temperatures falling to around 15 degrees Celsius. There should be rain in places with bright spells.