The leaders of 16 eastern and central European countries met in Romania's Black Sea resort of Mamaia on Thursday at the start of a two-day summit on the impact of EU enlargement and Balkan stability. The Mamaia summit is the 11th such gathering since Germany, Austria, Hungary and the Czech Republic agreed in 1993 to launch a debate on closer ties between the European Union and former Eastern bloc countries. It comes less than a month after their initiative culminated in the May 1 accession of 10 new members to the EU, including eight former members of the Soviet bloc. The second day of the summit is expected to focus on economic and social stability as well as security in the Balkans.
Slovak police say they found two bags filled with explosives on Thursday outside the building in the capital Bratislava where a NATO meeting is to open on Friday. The two plastic bags, containing a total of almost one and a half kilos of explosives were discovered under a rubbish bin. Around 300 representatives from 39 countries are due to gather for a five-day meeting of NATO's parliamentary assembly starting on Friday. The Bratislava event comes two months after Slovakia and six other former Soviet bloc countries joined the transatlantic NATO alliance on March 29.
The talks between the European Commission and the Czech Republic, which resulted in Brussels' tacit approval of the use of milk from the herd in which a BSE- infected cow is found, were only preliminary and did not produce any formal agreement, the European Commission said on Thursday. It stressed that a possible change in the procedures for slaughtering of animals that might have contracted mad cow disease first has to be proposed by the European Commission College and then approved by member states. On Tuesday the Agriculture Ministry announced that Czech farmers who own an infected cow will not have to kill all animals of the same age in the herd. Instead, the cows will continue to produce milk and will be put down gradually.
Finance Minister, Bohuslav Sobotka, has sacked his deputy Jaroslav Sulc after the Czech daily Hospodarske Noviny reported Mr Sulc had collaborated with the communist-era secret police. Mr Sulc allegedly worked as a holder of a "cover address," meaning he gave his postal address at the disposal of the secret police. The paper adds that Mr Sulc received a screening certificate, proving that he had not collaborated with the political police. Holders of "cover addresses" are not explicitly mentioned in the "lustration" screening law of 1991.
The Czech Republic offers the best living conditions for Slovak citizens who have decided to live abroad, Slovak President Rudolf Schuster said on Wednesday. Mr Schuster is currently in Prague for the last time as Slovak President. He will be succeeded by Ivan Gasparovic, when his term ends in June. At a meeting with Slovak residents in the Czech Republic, he expressed regret over Slovakia's failure to do more to support its citizens abroad.
The London-based human rights organisation Amnesty International has criticised the Czech Republic for ill treatment of its Roma minority and cases of degrading treatment of patients in mental hospitals. According to the Amnesty International annual report, released on Wednesday, the cases of ill-treatment of Romanies are not sufficiently investigated and their perpetrators are not sufficiently punished. The report also notes that Roma are affected by high unemployment and Romany children continue to be overrepresented in schools for children with learning difficulties. Amnesty International also points out that "cage beds" are still used in psychiatric hospitals to restrain patients. The organisation considers the use of cage beds in Czech mental institutions to be cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, violating international law and professional practice.
The Czech cabinet has approved draft legislation which abolishes thirteenth and fourteenth month salaries, a form of bonus given to civil servants in the summer and at the end of the year. Instead, the draft proposes to replace the two extra salaries with only 20% of one monthly wage, divided among the twelve salaries in the year. The cabinet also decided to deprive judges, MPs, ministers, and state representatives, of their fourteenth month salary as early as this year. Both draft laws are yet to be approved by parliament and signed by the president. Civil service unions, who oppose the draft, have said they are confident the proposed legislation would not make it through parliament.
Czech farmers will no longer have to slaughter an entire herd if individual cattle contract mad cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy or BSE), Czech Television reported on Tuesday. With Czech herds often totalling several hundred cows, the Czech Republic has been opposed to EU regulations calling for the immediate slaughter of the entire herd when a single case of BSE is confirmed. In the last 3.5 years, 1,591 cows were slaughtered because of nine confirmed cases of BSE. At a meeting of agriculture ministers in Brussels this week, Czech Agriculture Minister Jaroslav Palas managed to convince Brussels to allow cows from a herd with one confirmed case to continue to produce milk. Since the beginning of 2001, over 570,000 Czech animals have been tested for BSE. The most recent case of detected BSE, the eleventh case in the country's history, was detected in South Bohemia on April 30.
The Czech National Security Council met on Tuesday to prepare for the upcoming NATO summit in Istanbul, Turkey. Following the meeting, Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla said the Czech Republic would not support any proposals for NATO's engagement in Iraq. This country is, however, willing to participate in peace-keeping missions in the Middle East. In February, Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda offered to act as a mediator to solve conflict on the borders between Lebanon, Syria, and Israel. According to Czech President Vaclav Klaus, who will be leading the Czech delegation to Istanbul, the fact that the next summit will be held in Turkey shows that NATO hopes to have a more clearly defined role in the Middle East. The Security Council on Tuesday also approved the country's military strategy but was not able to agree on a common Czech standpoint on European security and defence policy.
Czech soldiers specialised in anti-biological and chemical warfare may train their Greek counterparts, in order to help Greece optimize security during the Olympic Games in Athens this summer. The Greek Army decided to have its own soldiers trained by the specialised Czech units, which were originally meant to be part of security forces at the Olympic Games, but which the Greek government found to be too expensive. The Defence Ministry is currently in talks with the Greek Army and is expected to sign an agreement by the end of the week.
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