NATO Secretary-General George Robertson has criticised European members of the alliance for failing to devote enough resources to defence spending. In a commentary to appear in the German Bild am Sonntag newspaper on Sunday, Robertson said it was wrong for European nations in NATO to accuse the United States of taking unilateral action if they are unable to improve their military capabilities. Despite there being a lot of talk about modernising, governments are buttoned up when it comes time to pay, he said. As a result, the trans-Atlantic capabilities gap is growing larger and larger. One such example is that the United States has over 200 strategic transport aircraft, while Europe has four. The Czech Republic has been a NATO member since March 12 1999. A new government plan to decrease the state budget deficit has significantly reduced the defence ministry's budget, leading to the resignation of Defence Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik.
A small group of some twenty people gathered at Prague's Old Town Square on Saturday to protest against the Czech Republic's accession to the EU. Representatives of the Citizens' Against the EU Association urged Czechs to vote "no" in the upcoming referendum, saying EU membership would threaten the Czech Republic's independence, as it would be greatly influenced by international organisations, and affected by more corruption and organised crime. The Czech Republic goes to the polls on Friday in a two-day referendum on joining the European Union. Unlike in neighbouring Poland or Slovakia, the result of the EU referendum in the Czech Republic will be binding. Should Czechs say "no" to EU membership, the country will have to wait two years before a new referendum can be held.
The opposition Civic Democrats' shadow foreign minister Jan Zahradil has criticised the Czech government's EU accession campaign. In a Czech TV discussion programme on Saturday, he said the ongoing campaign lacks objectivity and leaves citizens misinformed. However, according to Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda, who was also a guest in the programme, the campaign hides nothing from Czech citizens. He added that all open queries on EU membership are furthermore attended to by the ministry; in May alone, it replied to 40,000 telephone calls and one million e-mails.
Czech and Slovak soldiers should work together more frequently, Czech President Vaclav Klaus and his Slovak counterpart Rudolf Schuster said on Friday. The two presidents agreed on closer co-operation in the military during a ceremony in Prague honouring members of the joint Czech-Slovak anti-chemical unit, which recently returned from its mission in Kuwait. However, the heads of state are yet to decide in what form this increased co-operation should to be.
EU commissioner for expansion Gunter Verheugen on Thursday began his two day visit to the Czech Republic by sampling a cold beer in the west Bohemian city of Pilsen, taking a tram ride and going on a walkabout. I was looking forward to visiting the city whose beer has made this country famous around the world, Mr. Verheugen told the crowd of reporters dogging his footsteps. On Thursday evening the EU commissioner is to meet with President Vaclav Klaus at Prague Castle.
The pro-EU Yes for Europe group is considering whether to go ahead with a planned concert in the centre of Prague, in the wake of a decision by the city council banning the group from holding the event in the Old Town Square. The council has told the group they can hold the concert - to be opened by former President Vaclav Havel - on Wenceslas Square instead, but the group say this may not be possible. The council - which is controlled by the opposition Civic Democrats - banned the concert for noise reasons. The Civic Democrats have held several rock concerts in the Old Town Square in recent years.
Around 200 farmers have demonstrated outside the government offices in Prague in support of a proposal put forward by Agriculture Minister Jaroslav Palas. The proposal involves asking for more direct payments from the European Union, and a temporary grant of around 100 million dollars to resolve problems in the agriculture sector.
Czech President Vaclav Klaus has accepted Defence Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik's offer to resign: the two men met for an hour at Prague Castle on Tuesday to discuss the future of the Czech military, during which Mr Klaus thanked the outgoing minister for his services. Last week Mr Tvrdik tendered his resignation because he disagreed with planned government cuts to the Defence Ministry budget. He said that implementing long planned reforms in the armed forces would be impossible under such conditions. Meanwhile on Tuesday, the head of the president's office Jiri Weigl stated the president had displayed personal regret over the departure of the minister, considering him the most distinguished personality to have headed the Defence Ministry.
The opposition Civic Democrats have said that if Czechs vote to join the European Union in a forthcoming referendum, it should be followed by a second referendum on the planned new EU constitution. Deputy leader Jan Zahradil said on Monday the Civic Democrats would recommend voting against the EU constitution in a referendum, if they considered it excessively federalist. The EU's first constitution is currently being debated by the European Convention. The Czech Republic will join the union next May if voters say "yes" on June 13 and 14.
Former top communist Milos Jakes collapsed in a Prague court on Monday while giving evidence at the trial of another party official. Mr Jakes, secretary-general of the Communist Party from 1985 to 1989, was testifying in the case of Karel Hoffman, accused of treason for his part in the silencing of radio broadcasts during the 1968 Soviet-led invasion. Mr Hoffman's trial follows the acquittal last September of Mr Jakes and former prime minister Jozef Lenart on charges related to the 1968 invasion.
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