Three Czech journalists kidnapped in Iraq last Sunday have been released
and are now safe at the Czech embassy in Baghdad. Czech TV's Michal Kubal,
cameraman Petr Klima, and Czech Radio correspondent Vit Pohanka, were
kidnapped by insurgents while en route to Amman, Jordan last Sunday,
suffering an intense six days captive at the hands of unknown assailants.
Before this Friday's breakthrough release Czech diplomatic authorities had
tried in vain to establish contact with the insurgents. Correspondent Vit
Pohanka spoke with Czech Radio Friday afternoon saying he and his
colleagues were in good condition and were ready to return to the Czech
"All of us are alright we are in good psychological shape, although as you can imagine there were moments when we didn't feel so great. The main thing was that we were all together. Now we're okay and look forward to everything being sorted out."
Vit Pohanka was also asked by Czech Radio if he and his colleagues had had any contact at all with any of the other foreigners being held in captivity in Iraq:
"No. we were completely isolated. It wasn't even clear who our abductors were. At first we just thought we were being stopped by some locals. No one told us a thing and we had no idea what was going on."
Czech veterinarians say they may have uncovered the 10th case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy or mad cow disease, in the Czech Republic. A six and a half-year-old specimen in East Bohemia may have the disease; according to State Veterinary Administration head Josef Holejsovsky the results of control tests could be made public next Tuesday. On Fridayspokesman Josef Duben said vets had banned the movement of any animals from the farm under suspicion, a number of animals are now to be slaughtered as a preventive step. Altogether, some 1,600 cows have been slaughtered in relation to the nine BSE cases detected to date. The first Czech BSE case was detected in June 2001.
Deputy foreign minister Petr Kolar has meanwhile revealed that one of
the factors instrumental to the Czech journalists' release was a
diplomatic meeting by the Czech ambassador to Iraq Martin Klepteko with
Muslim spiritual leaders. Mr Kolar also praised Czech Muslim
representatives for a letter of appeal they sent showing solidarity
with the abducted men, asking for the journalists' release. On Friday
Mr Kolar spoke with Radio Prague about how and when the journalists
would return home.
"The problem is that our jet is not allowed to land in Baghdad because of the security reasons and technical reasons. So, we are probably going to focus on Basra now - to take them to Basra and then have our jet fly there to take them home. So, I hope it is a question of one or two days."
Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda, who suffered a neck injury in a car accident late Thursday evening in Vyskov, south Moravia, has been transferred from the hospital in Vyskov to a hospital in Brno. The foreign minister will spend several days there undergoing monitoring and treatment. Meanwhile, police have ruled out alcohol as a factor in the accident, which took place when the driver lost control of the minister's vehicle in a difficult turn. All three the car were injured, but none of the injuries - including the foreign minister's - were life-threatening.
In an interview for Czech TV also on Friday afternoon Michal Kubal also spoke about the events leading up to his and his colleagues' abduction, speculating that their hired Iraqi driver had either made a mistake or had purposely driven the journalists into assailant hands - Mr Kubal said the driver chose a known and dangerous route the journalists had asked him to avoid. At a rebel check-point several dozen kilometres out of Baghdad the vehicle was stopped by rebels, and the journalists were taken out of the car, their hands bound and eyes blind-folded. Mr Kubal then said it was difficult to determine exactly which group had conducted the abduction. Friday afternoon, after several days of promises by their abductors, the three Czech journalists were driven to a Baghdad suburb and released. They then took a taxi to the Czech embassy.
A new survey released by the CVVM agency has revealed that had elections to European Parliament been held in March some 61 percent of Czechs would have gone to the polls. However, the agency was quick to add that actual participation in elections usually falls short of the numbers polled, saying actual turn-out might number 40 percent.
President Vaclav Klaus, on an eleven-day state visit to China, has met with Hong Kong's Chief Executive Tung Chee Hwa. The two discussed political and economic ties, with the Czech president saying Hong Kong could serve as an illustration for China's development in the future, stressing it was important to establish contacts with political and business representatives. Mr Klaus is also quoted as saying Chief Executive Tung Chee Hwa had praised the Czech Republic as the only EU accession country to have established a business representative office in Hong Kong.
There has been no news in the search for the three Czech journalists who were kidnapped in Iraq on Sunday morning. According to the Czech Foreign Ministry the kidnappers have not contacted the Czech side yet, and Czech diplomacy has not succeeded in establishing any direct contact with them either. The purpose of the kidnap is not yet known and there is no direct evidence that the three Czechs are still alive. Deputy Foreign Minister Petr Kolar said that the ministry believed the Czechs had not been abducted by the same group which on Wednesday murdered an Italian national. Czech Television reporter Michal Kubal, his cameraman Petr Klima and Czech Radio reporter Vit Pohanka were abducted by as yet unidentified armed men when travelling from Baghdad to Jordan's Amman on Sunday morning.
Prague police have said that the crime rate in Prague has fallen in the first three months of this year by almost four percent compared to the same period last year but no improvement has been achieved in the clearance of crimes. While twenty-five percent of crimes were solved in the first quarter of last year, it was almost eight percent fewer this year. About 24,000 crimes were committed in Prague in the first quarter of this year, about 4,000 of which have been solved. Compared to 2003, the number of violent crimes has increased. The number of robberies has also grown and two more murders were committed compared to the same period last year. The number of robberies of banks and post offices has grown seven times, while the number of thefts has fallen.
The new health minister Social Democrat Jozef Kubinyi took up his post on Thursday. Mr Kubinyi replaced Marie Souckova who was recalled earlier this week for failing to produce a sound reform plan for the health sector. Minister Kubinyi is expected to start work on a new reform plan immediately. During the appointment of Mr. Kubinyi at Prague Castle on Wednesday, President Vaclav Klaus described the health ministry as an ailing institution, which has seen the highest number of ministers come and go, and whose state of health is even worse than that of the health sector it is supposed to reform.
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