The popular Czech novelist Zdenek Jirotka died at the age of 92 early on Saturday. Jirotka was an excellent storyteller, author of several comic novels, short stories, TV and radio plays. He was best known for his satiric novel Saturnin set in the 1920s, telling the stories of a young upper class man and his servant who never ceases to surprise his master with original solutions to everyday problems.
Police in the town of Boskovice, central Moravia, reported another suicide attempt by self-immolation on Saturday. A drunken man poured diesel over himself at a petrol station and tried to set himself alight. However, having mistaken slow-burning diesel for petrol, his attempt failed. The police said the man wanted to commit suicide because his wife wanted to divorce him. Since the beginning of March, six people in the Czech Republic have committed suicide by burning themselves to death. Psychologists around the country have condemned the series of self-immolations, warning that they can dangerously influence depressed people.
Foreign Minister and the leader of the junior coalition Christian Democrats Cyril Svoboda said his party would push its leftist coalition partners to agree to public spending cuts to speed up the adoption of the euro currency. Svoboda said his party would urge the government to approve major fiscal reforms aimed at joining the euro between 2007 and 2009. This is a more ambitious target than has been proposed by the ruling Social Democrats who have largely spoken against radical spending cuts, especially in social welfare, and favoured the period between 2009-2011 as possible target dates for euro zone entry.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.