The Czech Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik is pushing for action in Parliament where deputies are expected to vote on the means of financing a Czech field hospital in Afghanistan. The government is in favour of issuing bonds worth 600 million crowns to help cover the expenditures but opposition politicians have criticized the plan, saying the government must find the money elsewhere. The Defense Minister is pushing for action and has threatened to resign if Parliament fails to find a means of financing the planned mission. The governing Social Democrats are planning to request an extraordinary Parliament session devoted to the matter. Meanwhile, an advance team of 30 Czech soldiers is to leave for Kabul on Wednesday to prepare the ground for the field hospital.
Meanwhile, at a meeting of the joint Czech-EU accession committee in Prague, some deputies of the European Parliament expressed the view that although controversy over the Benes decrees should not disrupt the accession process the Czech Republic should not be allowed to join the EU until it had revoked the decrees. The co-chairwoman of the committee Ursula Stenzel, said she hoped that the resolution which the Czech Parliament is planning to approve will not close the door to further negotiations.
Romany leaders in the north Moravian city of Ostrava have confirmed that Slovak Romanies bought false Czech passports in the city. A Slovak daily reported on Monday that Slovak Romanies were using the false passports to get into the United Kingdom and Ireland. Unlike Czech citizens, Slovaks need a visa to enter the two countries. The chairman of the Democratic Centre of Romanies Josef Facuna said the Slovak Romanies had bought the fake Czech passports for between two and five hundred dollars.
The Czech government is planning another campaign against racism and xenophobia. The campaign should be focused on high-school students who sociologists say are susceptible to propaganda from various racist and xenophobic groups. The campaign which is to be launched in May, will besides other things include discussions with representatives of ethnic minorities and refugees. The government will also provide money to public libraries for publications on ethnic minorities and human rights.
The departure of a Czech military field hospital to Afghanistan is likely to be delayed by two days. Some parts of the hospital were due to be sent to Afghanistan on April the 22nd but the government has not yet found enough finances to support the mission. The government wants to issue bonds worth 600 million crowns to partially cover the task, a move the Czech parliament has yet to approve. The overall cost of the hospital and its operation in Afghanistan is estimated at 1.25 billion crowns. An advanced group of Czech doctors have already arrived in Kabul; another two hundred are expected to leave in the next few weeks.
The Senate has passed an amendment to the election law allowing Czechs living in the United States to vote in June's elections a day earlier than voters in the Czech Republic. The amendment overcomes the delay which would have been caused by the time difference between the two countries, and means election results can be released at 2 in the afternoon on July 15.
The cabinet has approved the setting up of special pre-school classes for Roma children in a bid to eradicate the large gap between them and other pupils. Under the Education Ministry proposal nurseries and primary schools with large numbers of Roma children will provide pre-school classes. Critics say Roma children are at an automatic disadvantage when they enter the Czech school system, because of language, cultural and social differences. Many end up in special schools for the mentally handicapped. The cabinet also approved the establishment of special educational facilities for children of asylum seekers.
Amidst continuing controversy over the post-war Benes decrees , the EU's ambassador to Prague Ramiro Cibrian has said that the possibility of compensating ethnic Germans expelled from Czechoslovakia after the SWW must be resolved on bilateral level. He repeated that the EU did not consider the controversial Benes decrees an obstacle to Czech EU membership and suggested that the states involved resolve the matter between them. Sudeten German groups in Austria have been pushing for an international platform where they could present their property claims. One is the EU, another the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. The Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schussel does not approve of either of those proposals. In a related development, a delegation of Czech parliament deputies led by Foreign Minister Jan Kavan on Tuesday presented the Czech Republic's stand on the controversial Benes decrees to the European Parliament.
The Czech Republic has vowed to push for a fair allocation of seats in the European Parliament. The Czech Republic was allotted 20 seats under the terms of the Nice Treaty signed in December 2000, but it feels short-changed since other EU states with a similar sized population such as Belgium have more seats. The Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan said in Brussles on Tuesday it was important for the Czech Republic to join the Union on an equal footing and that his country would push for an adjustment. Hungary is in a similar position.
Austrian politicians have protested against EU Enlargement Commissioner Gunter Verheugen's statement that the post-war Benes decrees were no obstacle to the Czech Republic's EU membership. The Austrian Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero Waldner said the Commissioner's attitude was " a bit strange". On the television programme Press Hour she said the Czech side was also aware that something needed to be done and that she was confident that "a good solution" could be found. Attacks on Mr. Verheugen also came from the Freedom Party. Peter Westenthaler, Freedom Party leader in Parliament, described Mr. Verheugen's words as " a monstrous provocation to Austria". The Benes decrees sanctioned the expulsion of 2.5 million ethnic Germans from Czechoslovakia at the end of the SWW and some Austrian and German politicians insist that they must be revoked before the Czech Republic joins the EU .
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