Senior Czech politicians have welcomed the arrest of Saddam Hussein by United States forces. President Vaclav Klaus said the capture of the former dictator of Iraq should speed up the process of consolidation in the country, while Prime Minister Spidla said the transfer of power to the Iraqi people should now take place more quickly. Foreign Minister Svoboda, meanwhile, praised the work of the United States intelligence services in the capture of Saddam.
Meanwhile, the Social Democrats have chosen a former cabinet spokesman, MP Libor Roucek, to lead their candidates in the European Parliament elections. Mr Roucek, the only candidate put forward by the Social Democrat leadership, defeated members nominated by the party's regional organisations in Sunday's vote. The Czech Republic will have 22 Members of the European Parliament.
Speaking to Radio Prague the Czech foreign minister, Cyril Svoboda,
said that the Czech Republic's key demands as regards the constitution
had not changed.
"The three main points are the commission, the qualified majority voting system and the weight of the votes. All the three problems are still on the table and it is up to all the delegations, up to all the states, to go very carefully through the three points."
Former foreign minister Jan Kavan, who is a member of the Social Democrats, has declined an offer to stand for the Communist Party in elections next year to the European Parliament. Speaking on TV Nova on Sunday, he also said he had turned down a low position on the Social Democrats' list of candidates. The Communists offered Mr Kavan a high place on their list, which would have given him a relatively good chance of being elected. Jan Kavan, who last year was president of the United Nations General Assembly, has been involved in several controversies since the early 1990s.
The Czech prime minister, Vladimir Spidla, has expressed disappointment at the failure of a European Union summit to decide on a constitution. Speaking after talks collapsed in Brussels on Saturday, Mr Spidla said he hoped the outstanding issues would be settled in the near future. He also said he was not in favour of a two-speed EU with countries in favour of faster integration leaving other members behind. However, if such a two-speed Union does emerge, the Czech Republic should be among the more dynamic group, Prime Minister Spidla said.
A bill was also passed on Friday allowing the building of two weirs on the Elbe River in north Bohemia, despite protests from the environment minister, Libor Ambrozek, and environmental groups. Mr Ambrozek said the building of the weirs would damage the eco-system in the areas in question and was in contravention of EU norms.
A former Iraqi official has told United States investigators that he
did not have a meeting in Prague with the suspected leader of the
September 11 attacks, the New York Times reported on Saturday. Ahmad
Khalil Samir al-Ani denied meeting Mohamed Atta in the Czech capital.
Though Czech officials had initially said that the two men had met, the CIA and FBI eventually concluded that no such meeting took place. A possible connection between Iraq and the September attacks was a reason used by some conservatives in the US to justify invading Iraq earlier this year.
The Chamber of Deputies has launched a campaign against pawn shops which deal in stolen goods, passing a bill on Friday under which shopkeepers would have to ascertain the identity of clients. The bill's proponents said there were 1,800 pawn shops in Prague alone, many of which were open around the clock.
Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla, Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda and other
senior officials have returned to the Czech Republic after a summit to
decide on a constitution for the European Union ended in failure. Talks
broke down on Saturday after Spain and Poland refused to surrender voting
rights they won at the Nice summit, three years ago.
A Czech official told the CTK news agency that the inter-governmental conference could continue in the New Year, when Ireland takes over the presidency of the EU. The Czech Republic and nine other mostly former communist countries are due to join the Union on May 1.
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