• 01/31/2006

    Czech model Helena Houdova who was imprisoned in Cuba last week told journalists she had managed to smuggle out photographs taken on the island. Houdova was arrested along with another model, as they were taking pictures of children in slums. The two women spent 11 hours in police custody. Houdova, who is heavily involved in charity, says her intention was to portray the dark side of Cuba as an island of poverty and political oppression. Although their cameras were confiscated Houdova says she managed to conceal a memory card inside her bra. The pictures are to be displayed at an exhibition organized with the help of the humanitarian aid organization People in Need.

  • 01/31/2006

    The Ombudsman's office has criticized the police for excessive use of force in breaking up the rave party Czech Tek in July of 2005. The Ombudsman launched an independent investigation into the affair following widespread criticism of the crack-down against several thousand youngsters whose rave party had spilled over onto private property. The Ombudsman Otakar Motejl said his findings suggested that the police had not used up all possible options of dealing with the situation before applying force.

  • 01/31/2006

    The European Union's tax rules were said to be in chaos on Tuesday as Poland held out against a VAT compromise backed by all other countries, potentially triggering EU action against member states that still impose lower rates. Karl-Heinz Grasser, finance minister of Austria which holds the rotating EU presidency, said the 25-member bloc was in a "very serious situation", but a solution was still possible. The other 24 EU countries back a proposal by Vienna to extend by five years an arrangement which expired last year and allowed VAT on selected services in nine member states to be kept below the minimum rate of 15 percent. The Czech Republic and Cyprus dropped objections at the weekend but Poland's new conservative government remains opposed to the deal.

  • 01/30/2006

    Up to 95 percent of pharmacies in the Czech Republic closed their doors for three hours on Monday to protest changes to the pricing system on medicines introduced by Health Minister David Rath. Until now, pharmacists have warned that under the plan, which cuts pharmacists' margin of profit, a quarter of the country's chemists could go out of business. There are a total of 2,200 pharmacies in the country. Despite closing their doors on Monday, pharmacists remained on hand for acutely-ill patients. During the shut-down representatives put forward a petition at the office of the government: 1,500 signatures protesting Mr Rath's policies, asking for the prime minister's involvement.

    Author: Jan Velinger
  • 01/30/2006

    The Interior Minister Frantisek Bublan has ordered fire brigades to beginning gauging the structural safety of major buildings and shopping centres in the Czech Republic, following the tragedy in Katowice, Poland, at the weekend. In Katowice, the collapse of an exhibition hall killed 67 people, including two Czech nationals. In the Czech Republic, the monitoring will take up to one month. Like Poland, the Czech Republic has been hit by heavy snow in recent weeks, adding significant "stress" to flat-roof structures. One supermarket in the Czech Republic recently caved-in, but no one was seriously hurt.

    Author: Jan Velinger
  • 01/30/2006

    In related news, the Czech Republic has offered to send more than 700 litres of blood plasma to Poland to help those injured in the tragedy. The Foreign Ministry has made a helicopter available to deliver the material.

    Author: Jan Velinger
  • 01/30/2006

    The Czech Ministry for Trade & Industry has been taking steps to try and help LG Philips Displays, a plant in the region of eastern Moravia manufacturing TV screens, which shut down on Friday amidst financial difficulty. Until now, the plant has employed 1,300 people. Specialists say its permanent shutting down would have a devastating impact on the region. For now, operation is set to resume on Tuesday, with two out of three production lines running. For the long term: the Ministry for Trade & Industry is trying to work out a plan to save the factory, with options including securing an export loan from the Czech Export bank.

    Author: Jan Velinger
  • 01/30/2006

    A spokeswoman for the Supreme State Attorney, Renata Vesecka, has said the state attorney will apply for information on the recent shelving of the case by police, of a suspicious flat purchase by the former prime minister, Stanislav Gross. Unclear circumstances surrounding the flat's financing, along with murky business deals by Mr Gross' wife, sparked a government crisis that led to the prime minister stepping down in April of last year. The Supreme State Attorney's Office will ask for information from the Prague Municipal State Attorney's Office, which supervised Gross's case. Then it will decide whether to re-check the decision process. The Supreme State Attorney's Office normally reviews all serious cases in which investigations have been shelved. In the event of uncertainty, the Supreme State Attorney can order a case re-opened.

    Author: Jan Velinger
  • 01/30/2006

    Former football international and coach turned head organiser of Germany's football World Cup, Franz Beckenbauer, is in Prague on a two-day visit to promote soccer's biggest event. On Monday afternoon Mr Beckenbauer met with both Czech football officials as well as with Czech president Vaclav Klaus. On Tuesday Mr Beckenbauer will meet with the Czech prime minister. The World Cup will kick off in neighbouring Germany in June. The last time Czechs competed in the event was sixteen years ago, in Italy in 1990.

    Author: Jan Velinger
  • 01/29/2006

    One Czech is officially known to have been among the 66 people who died when a hotel roof collapsed in the Polish city of Katowice on Saturday night. Meanwhile, a second Czech is believed to have been among the dead and yet another is unaccounted for.

    The Czech president, Vaclav Klaus, sent his condolences to his Polish counterpart, Lech Kaczynski. Mr Kaczynski had been due to visit Prague on Monday but cancelled the trip after announcing a day of mourning in Poland.

    A group of Czech rescue workers have been helping look through the rubble of Saturday's disaster in Katowice, which is near the Czech-Polish border.

    Author: Ian Willoughby

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