Record economic growth

The Czech economy grew by 6.9 percent in the last quarter of 2005 as exports boomed, capping the fastest annual expansion in the country's history. Exports propelled the performance shooting up by 12.6 percent while imports rose at a more moderate pace of 6.1 percent. Higher investment and household spending also contributed to the fast pace of economic growth.

The figures took most economists in the country by surprise. They say the Czech Republic is now one of Europe's economic tigers.

Prime Minister criticises former Civic Democrat government

Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek has criticised the former government of current president Vaclav Klaus for withdrawing from the Russian market in the 1990s. Speaking at a meeting with entrepreneurs in Moravia, Mr Paroubek said the country's economic growth was hindered as a consequence. With exports to Russia raised by 46 percent in 2005 and plans underway to export agricultural surpluses and cooperate in the field of science and research, Czech-Russian economic relations are picking up, the prime minister said.

President Klaus, who was prime minister in the 1990s, is currently on an official trip to Luxembourg and has not reacted to Mr Paroubek's accusations.

Police arrest two Transport Ministry officials suspected of bribery

Police say they have arrested seven people on suspicion of bribery; two of them Transport Ministry officials. They are believed to have tried to influence state decision-making at the ministries of transport and agriculture. Under operation Anthropoid, the suspects were monitored by the organised crime department for five months. No charges have been brought against them so far.

Spain to open labour market to former communist EU members

Spain will lift a curb on workers from the European Union's former communist states on May 1, Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said on Thursday. The only countries of the EU fifteen that have their labour markets open so far are Britain, Ireland, and Sweden. In a telephone call to his Spanish counterpart on Thursday, Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda welcomed the decision.

Finland and Portugal are also expected to open their doors to labourers when a two-year transition period ends in May. Germany, Austria, and France will most likely uphold their restrictions on foreign workers.

Spidla attends conference on free movement of workers

The free movement of labour is much more important than many other freedoms within the EU, the European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, and Equal Opportunities Vladimir Spidla said on Thursday. Mr Spidla was speaking at a conference hosted by the permanent representation of the Czech Republic to the European Union in Brussels. Mr Spidla, a former Czech prime minister, said the EU was on the right track to have all of its labour markets open by 2011.

Using the example of the Czech Republic, where the average hourly wage is over a third higher than in neighbouring Slovakia, Mr Spidla tried to refute claims that an open labour market will lead to an influx of cheap labour. The number of workers from Slovakia seeking better paid jobs in the Czech Republic has remained at a constant 60,000, Mr Spidla argued.

Good Friday not declared as state holiday

The lower house of the Czech Parliament has rejected a proposal to declare Good Friday a state holiday. The proposal was put forward by the Senate, which also proposed to scrap International Women's Day from the list of "significant holidays".

Weather forecast

The next few days are expected to be overcast with scattered snow or sleet. Day-time temperatures will range from 2 to 6 degrees Celsius.