Austrian border police announced on Monday they had detained some 270 refugees who had entered Austria illegally. The refugees were detained in various parts of the area along the border with the Czech Republic and Slovakia over the weekend. On Saturday night, as many as 176 refugees attempted to cross the border into Lower Austria. "All of them are of Russian nationality and have asked for asylum. They have been taken to a refugee camp in Traiskirchen," a police representative said, describing it as an invasion by Russian refugees. Another group of Russian nationals was detained in the area on Sunday.
The European Refugee Fund (ERF) has decided to partially finance selected projects and policies relevant to refugees, displaced persons or asylum seekers in the Czech Republic. A Czech Interior Ministry official said on Monday that the ERF, which is EU funded and therefore only focuses on EU member states, has offered to allocate up to 807,000 Euros to organisations in the Czech Republic. The money, however, can only be used to support projects that are launched after May next year, when the Czech Republic is expected to become a fully fledged member of the European Union. Government offices, NGOs, and international institutions, planning projects for 2004 that benefit refugees and asylum seekers in areas such as health care, accommodation, and social and legal services, have until October 16th to forward their proposals to the Czech Interior Ministry.
Former communist hardliner Karel Hoffman was sentenced to six years in prison by the High Court in Prague on Monday. During the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia on August 21, 1968, Mr Hoffman, who was head of telecommunications at the time, ordered radio broadcasting to shut down, thereby helping to crush the "Prague Spring" reform movement. A lower court in Prague had already found him guilty of abuse of office and sentenced him to four years in prison in June. The verdict was appealed by the defendant and state attorney. The High Court has now raised the original four-year sentence to six years, finding him guilty of sabotage.
Football - the Czech Republic defeated Austria 3-2 in the last Euro 2004 qualifier in Vienna on Saturday. The Czechs won 18 matches in a row in Group Three and qualified for the European football championship next year. Scorers for the Czech Republic were Marek Jankulovski, Stepan Vachousek, and Jan Koller.
The Czech Medical Chamber has called on Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla to replace Health Minister Marie Souckova. The professional organisation of health care personnel claims that the minister is unable to deal with the current serious financial crisis in the sector. According to the Medical Chamber, heath insurance companies are heavily indebted and delay payments to health facilities, which consequently become insolvent themselves and many of them are facing bankruptcy. The doctors claim that Mrs. Souckova has failed to present any feasible solution to the unsustainable situation and her incompetence may result in thousands of patients left without proper care.
A regional court in the district of Ostrava has remanded Slovak businessman Patrik Pachinger in custody. He has been accused of fraud in his country and applied for political asylum in the Czech Republic. Pachinger was arrested in a refugee camp in north Moravia, at the request of Slovak authorities. It is up to the court to decide whether he will be extradited. Slovak authorities issued an international arrest warrant for Pachinger on Thursday. He and two other men have been charged with large-scale fraud and asset stripping. They deny the charges and claim that the prosecution is politically motivated.
The number of asylum seekers in the Czech Republic has increased dramatically this year as compared to 2002. Over the first nine months, more than 8000 people from 67 countries have applied for asylum, which is nearly the same number as for the whole of last year. More than one-third of asylum-seekers come from Russia. A total of 173 foreigners were granted asylum this year. The Czech Republic tightened its asylum laws last year due to frequent abuse of the system.
Former Czech President Vaclav Havel has received the St George Prize, awarded by the Polish Catholic weekly Tygodnik Powszechny. Havel is the first Czech to receive the prize. Also awarded was Polish journalist, human rights promoter and a friend of Mr. Havel's, Adam Michnik. The prize goes every year to personalities who act for the general benefit. Established in 1945, Tygodnik Powsechny is the oldest independent weekly in the former eastern bloc countries.
Nearly 5,000 Czech police stormed more than 400 brothels on Friday night in the biggest strike against the sex slave trade in the country. They checked documents of over 4,000 people, nearly half of them foreigners and charged 21 people, mostly with pimping and trafficking women. Interior Minister Stanislav Gross said the raids across the country were in response to growing criticism, both at home and abroad, that police were doing little to contain the illegal sex trade. He said foreign women detained in the raids would be given a chance to win residency permits if they co-operated with police. The Czech Republic has become a transit point and also destination for large numbers of sexual workers from other east European former Communist countries. Most women checked in the raids came from the Balkans and from countries further to the east of Europe like Ukraine or Moldova.
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