The Czech government is to decide whether or not the controversial President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko should be granted a visa to the Czech Republic. President Lukashenko, whose country has voiced strong opposition to NATO expansion, has applied for a visa in view of attending the November NATO summit in Prague. According to unofficial sources at NATO headquarters President Lukashenko has not been invited to the summit. Belarus, criticized by the West over its record on human rights and freedom of speech, has been at odds with several international institutions.
The Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament has approved a resolution on the controversial Benes decrees, stating that they do not present a hurdle to the Czech Republic's accession to the EU. The verdict is based on the outcome of a legal expertise commissioned by the European Parliament which concluded that the decrees are not in violation of EU law. The Benes decrees, which sanctioned the expulsion of 2.5 million ethnic Germans from Czechoslovakia after WWII, have been criticized by some groups in Austria and Germany who asked the Czech Republic to abolish the decrees before joining the European Union.
The Czech border authorities have warned visitors to the Czech Republic that after November 15th border security will be very tight in connection with the upcoming NATO summit. People entering the country by car can expect a thorough check up of their documents, luggage and vehicle and, consequently a much longer wait at the border. During the summit itself, on November 21st and 22nd, some parts of Prague will be closed off to the public and there may be changes in public transport.
The Czech police announced on Monday, they had charged nine men last week for supporting and propagating movements that suppress man's basic rights and freedoms. Apart from publicly giving the Nazi salute, wearing racist and neo-Nazi symbols and spreading racist material, they are also suspected of having organised four concerts featuring racist bands. According to Patrik Frk from the Czech police, the men between the ages of 19 and 25 were uncovered as part of operation Patriot - a wide police campaign against extremism that was launched in August 2001. Mr Frk added that the Central Bohemian police spent over a year verifying evidence against the men. When the police raided suspects' homes in May this year, hundreds of compact discs, cassettes, t-shirts and other materials that all propagate racism were found. The suspects have not been detained by the police but may face between three to eight years in prison if found guilty of the charges.
After declaring a state of legislative emergency on Monday, Lower House Speaker Lubomir Zaoralek announced that discussion on a bill to allow the U.S. Air Force help guard Czech airspace during the upcoming NATO summit in Prague would be accelerated. The foreign, defence and security committees of the lower house have until 1800hrs on Wednesday to submit any proposed changes to the bill in order to allow for it to be discussed during the lower house's session on Thursday. The bill will be debated in a shortened format. Instead of going through the regular three readings, it will be voted on in one day. The government approved the bill at its meeting on Sunday. After the lower house, it will be discussed by the Senate.
Another building was closed down in Prague's Karlin district on Monday after security checks proved it no longer safe. This brings the total number of flood-damaged buildings in the district to forty-three. In Prague, Karlin was most hit by the devastating floods in August. Out of its 25,000 inhabitants, only some 30% have been allowed to return to their homes. The rest are either staying with friends and relatives or have been given alternate provisional housing.
The United States Government confirmed that it would provide the Czech Republic with air defence support during the NATO summit to take place in Prague later this month. This assurance came amidst reports that the United States might not provide its combat aircraft for guarding the Czech air space because of unclear liability for potential accidents and damage. The Czech government is to meet Sunday evening to approve a law which would define powers and responsibilities of both sides in the event of an emergency situation.
The parties of the ruling coalition, the Social Democrats, Christian Democrats and the Freedom Union lost their majority in the Upper House of parliament after the second round of the Senate elections this weekend. Most successful were members of the opposition right-of-centre Civic Democrats and independent candidates. The government coalition won nine out of 27 contested seats and fell seven seats short of majority. Elections to the Senate are held every two years to replace one third of the Senators.
In the local elections this weekend, independent candidates won more than a half of seats in local administration bodies nation-wide whereas none of the five main political parties exceeded 10 percent. The Christian Democrats won most seats of all the established political parties 9.6 percent, although as far as the number of votes is concerned, the right-of- centre Civic Democrats of Vaclav Klaus came first in the elections with 25 percent of the vote and will dominate town halls mainly in bigger towns and cities.
According to a recent survey conducted by the RCA Research agency, 70 percent of Czechs oppose the idea of a U.S.-led military campaign against Iraq. The highest support for a military action to disarm Iraq was reported among university graduates and people between 25 and 34 years of age, support is also stronger among men than women.
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