Human rights groups have criticised a court verdict in Karlovy Vary after three police officers received suspended sentences for an attack on a Roma man. The court found the three guilty of beating up Karel Billy in woods near the city in May 2001 and sentenced them to ten months in prison, suspended for two years. Two other officers involved in the incident were set free. The court ruled the attack was not racially motivated. All three defendants and the state prosecutor appealed against the verdict, which was criticised by the government's human rights commissioner Jan Jarab.
The Czech government on Monday gave final approval to a public finance reform package designed to cut high budget gaps and stop the growth in Czech government debt. Cabinet approval was expected after the leaders of all three ruling coalition parties agreed late on Sunday on a final framework for the fiscal reform. The medium-term reform plan targets cutting the public finance deficit to four percent of GDP in 2006 from a record high of 6.2 percent this year. The public finance reform is also the main precondition for eventual adoption of the euro later in this decade.
Czech president Vaclav Klaus has advocated the right of small European nations to defend their own interests. Speaking at the World Forum, organised by the American Enterprise Institute, in Beaver Creek, Colorado, Mr Klaus also rejected a recently inflated idea of dividing Europe into "old" and "new", alluding to US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld's statements before the war in Iraq. The Czech president also called for close Euro-Atlantic cooperation and warned against what is called an old European anti-Americanism, a phenomenon that has emerged after the US-led invasion of Iraq.
The commissioner for European Union enlargement, Guenter Verheugen, also praised the Czech statement on Friday, describing it as a clear acknowledgement of European values. Mr Verhuegen said the statement confirmed the very essence of European integration, meaning bringing the people of Europe closer together and creating a firm basis for permanent peace.
The prime minister, Vladimir Spidla, has described the draft European Union constitution prepared by the European Convention as a good basis for intergovernmental talks on the future of the union. Mr Spidla was speaking at the Greek resort of Porto Carras at a conference attended by the leaders of the 15 existing EU countries and 10 countries which are set to join next May. The Czech prime minister also said on Friday that he had welcomed the opportunity to speak Czech during the negotiations; under a new rule delegates from candidate countries can now speak in their own languages at EU conferences. The Czech people voted to join the EU in the country's first ever referendum last weekend.
Former Czech president Vaclav Havel has been honoured in Berlin. On Wednesday he was awarded a prize by the German National Foundation for 2003, for his services in helping to improve German-Czech relations, European integration, and conditions on human rights. The prize given to Mr Havel is worth 100,000 euros. In his acceptance speech the 66-year-old former president said his goal had always been to steer a steady course of reconciliation between the West and the East while defending his nation's interests. Among those in attendance at the special ceremony on Wednesday was German President Johannes Rau. The German National Foundation which awarded Mr Havel the prize, was first set-up by former West German chancellor Helmut Schmidt in 1993.
Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda has said foreign ministers from a number of EU countries have expressed their surprise that President Vaclav Klaus had failed to make clear whether Czechs should vote "Yes" in the recent EU referendum. Speaking to reporters after returning from an EU meeting in Luxembourg, Mr Svoboda said the Czech president was the only head of state of a candidate country to refuse to recommend EU membership to his citizens. President Klaus urged people to vote in the poll, but said they must make up their own minds. He was also quoted as saying that EU membership was a marriage of convenience, not love. In the end, 77 percent of people voted "Yes" to joining the EU.
President Vaclav Klaus has come under fire for his non-committal stand regarding the country's accession to the EU. Finance Minister Bohuslav Sobotka and Labour Minister Zdenek Skromach have both criticized the head of state for failing to take a public stand on so crucial an issue. President Klaus appealed to voters to go to the polls and make a prudent decision, but he refused to commit one way or another or to say how he himself would vote. "This is not a stand befitting a president" minister Sobotka told newsmen, pointing out that the presidents of Poland, Hungary and Slovakia had led their country's pro EU campaigns.
The European Commission's ambassador to Prague Mr. Ramiro Cibrian has said he is convinced that the process of ratifying the EU accession treaty by the unions 15 members should go smoothly. At a press conference in Prague on Monday, Mr. Cibrian congratulated Czechs on endorsing EU accession in a historic referendum and said it was a wonderful conclusion to his mission in Prague. After four and a half years in the Czech Republic, Mr. Cibrian is leaving his post, to be replaced by the current charge d'affaires Mr. Ralf Dreyer. Over the past twelve months Mr. Cibrian covered 35,000 kilometers, visited eighty towns and cities and held debates on EU membership with over 10,000 people in near-fluent Czech. "It has been hectic, but worthwhile" he told reporters.
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