Two days of celebrations have begun across the Czech Republic marking the country's accession to the European Union on May 1st. EU flags are flying on buildings and institutions in all Czech towns and cities and the two day celebrations include open-air parties, concerts and fireworks displays. The celebrations will climax at the stroke of midnight when the Czech Republic together with 9 other countries will become a full member of the European Union. The biggest expansion in the EUs history will swell its ranks to 25 nations and its population to 450 million.
A commemorative ceremony marking the 100th anniversary of the death of the famous Czech composer Antonin Dvorak was held at Prague's Visehrad cemetery on Friday afternoon. The ceremony was attended by leading cultural and political figures and followed by a mass served by Cardinal Miloslav Vlk. Antonin Dvorak was hailed as the most famous composer in Czech history -and possibly the most famous Czech personality of all time. His best known work the New World Symphony accompanied Man's first steps on the Moon.
Labour and Social Affairs Minister Zdenek Skromach has confirmed that workers from the enlarged EU will face no restrictions in the Czech Republic. Minister Skromach said that that the country would welcome all EU citizens who wish to live and work here, but that it would take steps to prevent people from abusing the country's social system and security benefits. Of the present member states only Britain, Ireland and Sweden have opened their labour markets to the ten newcomers.
A bill stating that the former president Edvard Benes made an outstanding contribution to Czechoslovakia, is to become law. Edvard Benes was president just before and after the Second World War. The bill has divided the Czech Lower House and the Senate, with the latter strongly opposed to it. It has also evoked strong criticism in neighbouring Austria and Germany where some politicians have described it as a slap in the face to the 2.5 million ethnic Germans who were forcibly expelled from post war Czechoslovakia under decrees issued by Benes. President Klaus decided he would neither sign, nor veto the bill, saying that he believed each citizen should be allowed to form his own opinion about historical events.
At a press conference in Prague on Friday Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla hailed the Czech Republic's entry to the EU as a historic moment, telling Czechs the country would profit from EU membership. We will not lose our sovereignty, it will be enhanced and we will share it with the remaining 24 states, the Prime Minister said, pointing out that as an EU member state the Czech Republic would be in a better position to defend its interests and mould European policy. The Prime Minister described the EU enlargement as "a definitive end to the division of Europe".
A bomb threat led the authorities to close two border crossings between Germany and the Czech Republic on Friday, just hours before the historic enlargement of the European Union. For four hours police with sniffer dogs combed two crossings near the town of Rozvadov without finding anything suspicious. The closure resulted in long cues on both sides of the border. Police are investigating the bomb threat. Meanwhile, security is tight at the German border town of Zittau, where German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, Czech Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla and Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller are due to attend the festivities on Saturday.
The Information Technology Minister, Vladimir Mlynar, has asked the anti-monopoly office to examine Wednesday's replacement of two executives of the mobile operator Eurotel and a subsequent personnel link with the management of Eurotel's parent company, Cesky Telecom. Mr Mlynar said he wants to know whether or not the change runs counter to the terms under which the anti-monopoly office approved the merger of the two telecommunications companies last year. On Wednesday, the executive board of Cesky Telecom dismissed Eurotel's CEO, Terrence Valeski, along with the head of the legal division, Lubos Borik, and replaced them with executives from Cesky Telecom.
Police in North Moravia say they have detained two men suspected of producing and distributing child porn videos and of abusing boys aged 8 to 12 years. One of the suspects worked as the head of a young boys' hiking group. Both men are accused of abusing about 20 children. If found guilty, the two 34-year-olds face up to 10 years in prison.
The Minister of Labour and Social Affairs, Zdenek Skromach, has said that the government is going to take steps to prevent the Czech workforce from leaving the country in search of work in other EU countries. Those steps should include, for example, harmonising of social benefits and taxes. Meanwhile, the Czech government is still negotiating with the "old" member states about free access for Czech citizens to their labour markets as most of the current EU states have taken measures preventing the new European citizens to be employed there. Czechs will be allowed to work freely in Britain, Ireland and Sweden as well as in the fellow EU accession states of Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia and the Baltic countries.
The new Health Minister, Jozef Kubinyi, has said that the problems of the country's national health insurer, the General Health Insurance Company, or VZP, and its head, Jirina Musilkova, should be discussed by the lower house of parliament. Shortly after taking office two weeks ago, Minister Kubinyi said that the VZP was "ineffective" and mismanaged its funds and that Ms Musilkova could not handle her post and should resign. Minister Kubinyi said the law does not allow him to propose that Ms Musilkova be recalled from her post.
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