The Czech Foreign Ministry has confirmed that 2, 960 Czechs living abroad have registered to vote in general elections in the Czech Republic, set to take place in June. According to the ministry the number is not final and may still undergo minor fluctuations. Nevertheless, original estimates in April suggested that the number of interested Czech voters abroad would be much higher, involving as many as 70, 000. Some Czechs living abroad have criticised the registration system as limiting, especially in such geographically broad countries as Canada and Australia. The system required Czechs living abroad to register at consulates by May 5th at the latest, which some say was not a realistic option; others complained that they had not been made aware it was necessary to register at all.
The Czech Helsinki Committee has released a new survey on human rights, which criticises government efforts to help improve living conditions for the Czech Republic's Roma minority. The Committee also said the number of successful requests for asylum had dropped, and corruption within the Czech police force remained a problem. Domestic violence involving mainly women and the aged has also not received enough attention, the report said. A representative of the Committee said Czech officials were poorly qualified, and claimed many turned a blind eye to human rights violations.
The Senate's Commission for European Integration plans to hold a public hearing on the future of the European Union on Thursday. The Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan and Freedom Union Senator Josef Zieleniec, both members of the new EU Convent, are expected to give their opinions on the Czech Republic's role in the union. As well as political parties, Daniel Herman from the Czech Bishops' Conference and Vladimir Vopalka of Charles University's Faculty of Law will also attend the hearing.
The 57th international music festival Prague Spring began on Sunday in Prague. The prestigious festival traditionally opens with Bedrich Smetana's symphonic poems "My Country", this year in a rendition by the Czech Philharmonic conducted by Japan's Ken-Ichiro Kobayashi. Established in 1946, the three-week festival is a showcase of the world's best musicians, symphony orchestras and chamber ensembles and offers 60 concerts of classical music and opera performances.
The Czech economic performance measured by per capita GDP is expected to catch up with the European Union only very slowly. A recent study by leading economic experts from Czech universities suggests that the Czech per capita GDP will grow from the current 60 percent of the EU average to 70 percent by 2010, which is seven years after the country's expected accession. Although the Czech Republic is significantly lagging behind the EU in economic performance, it is the second most advanced candidate country, after Slovinia. Economic performance of most of the other candidates is lower than 50 percent of the EU average. The Czech Republic's economic level is approximately the same as that of Ireland and Greece at the moment of their accession, and much higher than Portugal's, which was only 52 percent of the rest of the EU.
A final Czech army plane carrying members of the Czech 6th field hospital has landed in Kabul, Afghanistan, to complete a 200 member contingent there. The contingent will be serving a six month mission, during which Czech Army medical personnel will provide medical care to members of international military units in the region, as well as to local Afghan citizens. In all, thirteen flights were required to complete the transfer of crew members and almost a thousand tons of material for building the hospital and providing medicine - the six month mission is expected to cost the Czech Republic 600 million crowns.
The controversial Temelin nuclear power plant has been shut down again. Problems were discovered in the turbine in the south Bohemian plant's first reactor during tests on Tuesday, and the plant has been disconnected from the national grid. Temelin has been shut down several times since its launch in late 2000, and there have been calls from neighbouring countries and environmental groups for the plant to be abandoned completely.
The lower house has approved the issuing of bonds worth 600 million crowns or almost 17 million US dollars to finance the Czech military mission in Afghanistan. The bill has yet to be approved by the Senate and the president. A Czech military field hospital has begun work in the Afghan capital Kabul where the Czech Army medical personnel will provide care to members of international military units as well as local citizens.
Sunday, May 5th is the deadline for Czech citizens living abroad to register at Czech embassies and consulates if they wish to cast their votes in this year's parliamentary elections. Czech diplomats have agreed that people are less interested in this year's general election than Czech authorities expected. According to unofficial estimates there are about 70,000 Czech citizens living abroad, many of whom have criticised the fact that they have to travel to distant embassies rather than cast their votes by post.
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