Officials in the emerging local government in Basra, Iraq, have sent a letter to Czech Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla, asking the Czech Republic for humanitarian aid. Defence Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik confirmed the request for help on Friday, meant to aid some of the 4 million people in and around Basra in southern Iraq. The Czech government is currently counting on sending the Czech Republic's 7th field hospital to the region, although parliament has yet to approve the mission. The military has already ordered transportation for hospital personnel, including doctors and engineers and protective combat troops, to take place April 18th. In a telephone interview on Friday the Czech ambassador in Kuwait, Jana Hybaskova, indicated it was clear the field hospital unit would be set-up in Basra, while a local Iraqi stressed on Friday that what the region needed most now was drinking water and medicine.
The Iraqi woman who was denied entry into the Czech Republic last week, has been granted a new Czech visa. The head of the Foreign Ministry's press department Karel Boruvka said on Thursday that Salia Khalaf, her husband and seriously ill son had all been granted visas and were welcome to return to the country. Mrs. Khalaf who came to the Czech Republic hoping that her son would get badly needed medical care here was turned away by the foreign police -in spite of the fact that she had a valid visa - on the grounds that she presented a security threat. She miscarried hours later on a plane to Syria. The Czech Foreign Ministry has come under severe criticism over the incident.
Meanwhile, the Lower House of Parliament has given its final approval to a law allowing the Czech Republic to hold a referendum on EU membership. The law stipulates that the referendum should take place over two days -on a Friday and Saturday. President Vaclav Klaus has the authority to set the exact date, with mid-June seen as the most favorable term.
On an official visit to Germany, Czech President Vaclav Klaus said bilateral relations between the two neighbours have never been better. Mr. Klaus' talks with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder and President Johannes Rau focused on the two countries' business relations, the future of the European Union and the war on Iraq. At a press conference in Berlin, President Klaus said that the immediate concern of both states, as far as Iraq was concerned, was to avoid a full scale humanitarian crisis and help alleviate the suffering of the Iraqi people. Speaking just a day after the European Parliament endorsed the Czech Republic's admission to the EU, President Klaus said he was certain that Czechs would vote in favour of joining the European Union in a national referendum, expected in June. We have some questions about the future evolution of EU institutions but for us there is nevertheless no alternative, Mr. Klaus said.
Ambassadors of the Czech Republic and France have opened an exhibition of photographs featuring the first Czech President Vaclav Havel in Dublin, Ireland. The photographs have all been taken between 1974 and 2002 by Mr Havel's personal photographer Alan Pajer who was present the ceremonial opening on Tuesday. The exhibition will run for a month at the Alliance Francaise and is expected to travel to other cities in the coming year.
The European Parliament has endorsed the admission of the Czech Republic into the European Union. 489 members of the European Parliament voted for the motion while 39 voted against it. An official ceremony, which is to take place next week, will mark the official accession of the Czech Republic to the EU. The European Parliament also voted for the other nine candidate countries to be admitted to the EU.
Czech Deputy Defense Minister Jan Vana, told journalists on Tuesday that the American Defense Department has agreed to partially fund the deployment of the 7th Czech military field hospital to Iraq. According to Mr Vana, the US would primarily fund the transport of the field hospital, which is calculated at 188 million Czech crowns, or six and a half million US dollars. The field hospital could be sent to the region by April 18th. There is a high probability the destination will be in the vicinity of the city of Basra, where the humanitarian situation is reaching catastrophic levels. Officially, the deployment of the field hospital would not be a part of the US-led military operation in Iraq but would fall under the anti-terrorism operation Enduring Freedom.
Should the current law on public tenders stay in effect when the Czech Republic joins the European Union, the country will not get a single cent from the EU to be used in Czech projects. Speaking to journalists in Prague on Tuesday, the head of the EC delegation's investment section, Ruud van Enk warned that the EU would stand behind foreign investors and stated that current Czech law makes it difficult for foreign companies to take part in public tenders. According a spokesman for the Ministry for Regional Development, a proposal to a new law has already been made and will most probably be passed by parliament to come into effect on January 1 2004.
The lower house of parliament, on Tuesday, decided to discuss a government proposal to send a Czech field hospital to Iraq next week on April 17. The cabinet hopes to deploy the hospital in accordance with the UN Security Council Resolution 1472, which calls on the international community to provide the Iraqi population with immediate humanitarian aid. The Czech senate also plans to discuss the issue on April 17. Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla has written a letter to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, to seek his opinion. The Defence Ministry has said the 7th field hospital was ready for deployment and could leave for the Middle East as early as April 18.
The situation in Iraq and European Union issues are expected to dominate talks on Thursday between Czech President Vaclav Klaus and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, a German government spokesman said on Monday. It will be Mr Klaus's first visit to neighbouring Germany since he was appointed president just over a month ago. He will also meet his German counterpart Johannes Rau during the one-day visit.
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