World Bulletin/News Desk
The Czech Republic is to return property seized from churches during the 1948-1989 communist era under legislation approved by its lower house of parliament on Friday, a major step towards ending years of wrangling over the fate of the assets.
Under a plan agreed by the ruling parties and 17 religious groups led by the Catholic church, the government intends to give back most confiscated assets, mainly land and buildings worth some $4 billion, plus about $2.8 billion in cash compensation split into 30 annual payments.
The plan may cause a one-off jump in the budget deficit of 1.5 percent of gross domestic product, the central bank has assessed, because all future payments would be accounted for immediately.
Prime Minister Petr Necas's centre-right government has impressed investors with its steps to narrow the budget deficit and plans to overhaul the pension, health and welfare systems.
But it nearly collapsed over the church restitution plan, a highly divisive decision in an era of tax increases and spending cuts needed to narrow the budget deficit.
The return of church property had been planned since the bloodless 1989 "Velvet Revolution".
But it had until now never won enough political support in the largely atheist central European country. The leftist opposition strongly opposed the measure, also citing severe economic headwinds.
The plan is likely to be vetoed by the upper house, the Senate, which is dominated by leftists, but the lower house can overturn the veto later this year.
The Prague cabinet has been shaky since it took power in mid-2010, beset by a string of internal disputes caused by corruption scandals, personality clashes and the demands of individual parties.
But it has survived due to a lack of alternative government alliances and the ruling parties' concern that an early election would hand power to the opposition.
Baghdad and Iraqi Kurdish regional authorities are making progress to rescue a deal over crude oil exports, after it nearly unravelled due to Kurdish threats to halt shipments in protest over lack of payment.
U.S Led Coalition launches nine air strikes on ISIL targets
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni changed some ministries before elections next year.
Iran's foreign minister has accused Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu of trying to undermine Iran's negotiations towards a nuclear deal with world powers in order to distract from the Palestinian question.
Egypt's Sisi met new Saudia Arabia's King Salman to talk on regional issues
Qari Din Mohammad, who is one of the representatives of Afghan Taliban chief Mullah Omar, says peace talks are expected to begin next week in Kabul.
Italy will begin annual naval exercises this week near the coast of Libya
Tension has been running high in Yemen since the Shiite Houthi group seized control of Sanaa in September and sought to extend its influence to other provinces.
A magnitude 5.5 earthquake struck off the coast of Guatemala early on Sunday, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
A blind elderly man gets help while being led to a voting booth to mark his ballot during a parliamentary election at a polling station in the Tajik capital Dushanbe March 1, 2015.
Yemen's Hadi declares Sanaa occupied by the Shiite Houthi, saying that the government takeover is nothing less than a coup.
Aliyev had been due to testify at the trial of other inmates he said had threatened to kill him.
Egyptian court labels Hamas as terrorist organisation
White House says president would block legislation forcing him to submit text of any nuclear agreement to Congress
Egypt has been cracking down on militancy in Sinai