Czechs living abroad have little interest in casting their votes in the upcoming referendum on EU membership, according to the results of a public opinion poll conducted by reporters for the CTK news agency. The results of the study also suggest that interest in the referendum among Czechs abroad is significantly lower than in last year's parliamentary elections. Those who want to participate in the referendum have to do so in the Czech Republic, a condition that many Czechs abroad object to. CTK points out, though, that these terms have little influence as out of the 239 eligible voters on record at the Czech Embassy in Bratislava, just hours away from the Czech-Slovak border, only twelve had shown a sincere interest in the referendum by Friday.
A restaurant owner in the eastern town of Nachod is to compensate and apologise to four Roma, who were not served because of their skin colour. A court in nearby Hradec Kralove ruled on Friday that Karel Svoboda was to pay each Roma 20,000 Czech crowns and send them a letter apologising for the discrimination. Mr Svoboda can still appeal the verdict in the High Court in Prague.
Mr Tvrdik submitted his resignation on Thursday morning in protest at planned cuts in defence spending as part of the government's finance reforms. The minister, well respected both within the cabinet and among regular soldiers, had masterminded widespread reform of the armed forces to help create a professional army by 2006. Many of his reforms were based on the government spending some 2.2 percent of GDP on the military, as promised to NATO. But under the recently unveiled package of reforms, defence spending is to be cut to two percent.
The government is to launch the final stage of its campaign to encourage citizens to take part in the referendum on joining the European Union in two weeks' time. The final stage will be launched on Sunday, with a series of adverts on television. Most Czechs are in favour of their country joining the EU, but public apathy has raised fears of a low turnout in the referendum. The existing government campaign has been criticised by the opposition and President Klaus as superficial and naïve.
Politicians and soldiers have expressed their surprise and disappointment at the resignation of Defence Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik. President Vaclav Klaus told reporters the decision was a serious matter, and that he would wait until he had spoken to Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla before deciding whether to accept Mr Tvrdik's resignation. Mr Spidla has said he wants more time to consider the resignation, and will wait until next week before he speaks to the president.
Meanwhile soldiers serving with the Czech Army's field hospital in the Iraqi city of Basra have expressed their dismay at Mr Tvrdik's resignation. The commander of the field hospital said he hoped the minister would reconsider. Sources at NATO headquarters in Brussels said NATO officials were also taken aback by the move. NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson held talks with Mr Tvrdik earlier this week in Prague, during the alliance's Parliamentary Assembly meeting.
Meanwhile a concert in support of EU membership planned for Prague's Old Town Square has been cancelled, after councillors on the opposition-controlled council decided not to allow the event. They said the concert, to be opened by former President Vaclav Havel, would be too loud. Prague City Council is controlled by the opposition Civic Democrats. The party supports EU membership, but says it's opposed to further European integration.
The Czech government has called upon Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda, along with Trade and Industry Minister Milan Urban, to appeal to the European Commission on behalf of the Trinec Steelworks. The government would like to see the troubled steelworks receive public funds for needed re-structuralisation. According to Minister Milan Urban the Trinec steelworks should be added to a list of recipient steel companies that include Nova Hut, Vitkovice, and Valcovny Frydek-Mistek. In the minister's view the addition of Trinec to the list would divide EU funds already pledged, which some sources say amount to 150 million euros.
The government has approved a plan recommending that up to 400 Czech soldiers participate in a multi-national stabilisation force in Iraq to help maintain the peace. The recommended include personnel from the Czech 7th field hospital, as well as 50 military police officers and 15 soldiers form the CIMIC unit for civil-military co-operation. On Wednesday government spokeswoman Anna Starkova said the government had also approved measures for the protection of Czech employees from the Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance for Post-War Iraq. Both measures will still have to be approved by Parliament.