Meanwhile, a row has broken out between President Klaus and Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda in the wake of the signing of the EU accession treaty in Athens on Wednesday. President Klaus says he feels insulted by remarks that the Foreign Minister made when speaking to journalists in the wake of the ceremony. The Foreign Minister allegedly said that President Klaus' knowledge of the workings of the European Union was "superficial and inadequate". The President's spokesman Tomas Klavana said the remarks were "uncalled for, incorrect and misleading". The President has reportedly demanded an explanation in person but according to the Foreign Minister's spokesman Mr. Svoboda has no intention of going to Prague Castle "to be mentored by the head of state".
President Vaclav Klaus will call a referendum on the country's EU entry next week. Parliament has recommended a June 13th and 14th term and a spokesman for the President's office said on Friday that President Klaus would officially announce the referendum for those dates on April 24th. Opinion polls suggest that the Czech Republic will approve EU membership by a large margin.
The Czech Republic's top officials are to celebrate Wednesday's signing of the EU accession treaty on Friday morning at the government headquarters in Prague. The ceremony will be attended by President Vaclav Klaus, Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla and Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda who signed the treaty in Athens. Former President Vaclav Havel, former Prime Minister Milos Zeman and former Foreign Minister and current President of the United Nations General Assembly Jan Kavan have also been invited to Friday's ceremony.
Members of the 7th Czech military field hospital said good-bye to their
colleagues at a ceremony in Hradec Kralove on Thursday before leaving
for their mission in Basra, southern Iraq. The first 40 members of the
unit left on Thursday afternoon for Kuwait from where they will travel
to Iraq. Further personnel will leave on Friday. The field hospital has
two operating theatres, a quarantine section, a dentist's office with
an X-ray machine and a pharmacy. The unit has about 270 members. The
United States ambassador to Prague Craig Stapleton praised the Czech
government for deciding to send the unit to Iraq. He said that although
Iraq has been liberated, there is still work to be done.
On Tuesday, parliament approved Prime Minister Vladmir Spidla's plan to dispatch the medical unit to provide humanitarian support. The United States is helping to finance the operation. Mr Spidla has been emphasising the humanitarian focus of the hospital and the 400-member Czech army unit stationed in Kuwait that can detect against nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. Last year the Czech Republic stationed an army hospital in Afghanistan following a US-led war there. Before its mission ended in January the 6th field hospital treated nearly 14,000 Afghans.
The Czech Defence Ministry is considering buying used supersonic fighter planes to limit the costs of replacing its Soviet-era MiG jets next year, with five offers now on the table. The government was forced to drop plans to buy 24 new Anglo-Swedish Gripen jets after last year's catastrophic floods. Deputy Defence Minister Jan Vana told Reuters there were currently five offers to sell the country supersonic jets, but that a British offer was in what he called "a more advanced stage". NATO ally Britain has offered the Czech Republic 14 older F-3 Tornado jets, which should be replaced in the British armed forces in the next few years.
Leaders of the 10 leading candidates for membership of the European Union -the Czech Republic among them - have signed a landmark treaty in Athens granting them accession to the EU in 2004. The signing ceremony took place at the foot of the Acropolis, watched by leaders of the present EU 15. The treaty was signed by the Czech prime minister Vladimir Spidla and president Vaclav Klaus. Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda and the country's former chief negotiator with the EU, Pavel Telicka, were also due to add their signatures. The treaty must be ratified by all 15 member states and approved by referenda in the candidate countries.
Czech doctors from the country's anti-chemical unit currently based in Kuwait will begin treating Iraqi civilians in a Basra hospital on Thursday, ahead of the arrival of the 7th Army Field Hospital on Friday. Earlier this week parliament approved a plan to send the field hospital to Basra to provide emergency medical care to Iraqis. The anti-chemical unit will assist the field hospital in its work.
Prime Minister Spidla spoke of the historic nature of the occasion. The treaty had closed a chapter of his country's past, he said, a chapter which was too often out of Czech hands, referring to the Nazi and Soviet occupations. President Klaus struck a more pragmatic tone, saying the treaty was not the closing of a chapter, but the beginning of a new era in which Czechs would have to work hard at home and defend their position inside the EU. In an interview published on Wednesday with the German weekly Die Zeit, President Klaus said EU accession was a marriage based on reason rather than love.
Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla has confirmed that if parliament approves the sending of a Czech military field hospital to the Gulf it will be based in the southern Iraqi city of Basra. The prime minister made the statement at the start of a debate on the issue in the Chamber of Deputies on Tuesday. The debate had been scheduled for Thursday but was brought forward due to the speed of developments in the region. The Senate is also discussing the matter, with the approval of both houses widely expected. Defence Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik told the Senate that the first doctors could fly out on Thursday afternoon and be at work 24 hours later.