The lower house of parliament has passed a bill on registered
partnerships of same-sex couples in its first reading. The bill,
proposed by deputies, will now be sent on to the committee stage, and
then be put to a full vote in the lower house. Bills on registered
partnerships for homosexuals regularly divide opinion in the lower
house irrespective of party affiliations, with the junior government
Christian Democrats the only one uniformly opposed. Supporters of the
bill argue that public opinion polls have found that most Czechs have
no objections to inscribing registered partnerships in the law.
The bill under discussion would, for instance, ensure partners the right to view information on each other's medical condition, and the chance to be treated as next-of-kin as regards inheritance, enjoying the same rights as married heterosexual couple. However, adoption by homosexual couples would remain illegal. Laws on civil unions for gay and lesbian couples are valid in eight European Union states, as well as in Iceland, Norway, and Switzerland. Such partnerships are also legal in six provinces of Spain and the city of London. Hungary allows homosexual couples the same rights as common-law unions.
The Social Democrat leadership is due to meet on Saturday to discuss Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla's tenure as party chairman just a week after his government was routed in the European Parliament elections. Many of Mr Spidla's own party officials are openly urging him to step down, and say the longer he hangs on, the greater the chances are the party will force him to quit — and ultimately push him out as prime minister as well. If Mr Spidla does not quit as chairman, he will face a vote of confidence in the Central Executive Committee, the highest party organ between congresses. Prime Minister Spidla called the session for July 11. He also faces the threat of the smallest coalition party, the Freedom Union, quitting after poor election showing last week, and a no-confidence vote planned by the main opposition Civic Democrats.
The former Czech President, Vaclav Havel, has said that the United States, the European Union, Japan and South Korea should jointly confront the North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il to compel him to respect basic human rights. Calling Kim Jong Il the "world's worst totalitarian dictator" for being "responsible for the loss of millions of lives," Mr Havel cited accounts of repression by North Korean refugees that had been verified by modern satellite images. In an opinion piece in The Washington Post newspaper, Mr Havel urged the four democratic powers to take a common position and make it clear to Kim Jong Il that "respect for basic human rights is an integral part of any future discussions with Pyongyang". Last week, the Czech Republic reopened its embassy to North Korea. The Czechoslovak embassy to Pyongyang was closed in the early 1990s.
A poll conducted by the STEM agency suggests that if Czech parliamentary elections were held tomorrow, the right-of-centre opposition Civic Democrats would win 32 percent of the vote, followed by the Communists with 17 percent, and the senior Coalition Social Democrats with 14 percent of the vote. The fourth party that would make it to the lower house would be the junior coalition Christian Democrats with 8-percent support.
Czech Deputy Foreign Minister Petr Kolar will not be heading the United Nations mission in Kosovo, as proposed by the Czech Republic. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has named Danish official Soren Jessen-Petersen as chief of the UN mission instead. Mr Jessen-Petersen succeeds former Finnish prime minister Harri Holkeri, who resigned for health reasons amid ethnic tensions in the Serbian province administered by the UN for the past five years. The choice of Jessen-Petersen, a lawyer and journalist by training who worked for the UN High Commission for Refugees in Africa in the 1970s, was seen as a surprise.
The lower house of parliament has approved a government proposal to get a loan from the European Investment Bank (EIB) for the completion of the D8 motorway, connecting the Czech Republic with Germany. The 12 billion crown loan would cover sixty percent of the cost of construction and is to be paid back within 25 years' time. The cabinet hopes to sign the loan contract with the EIB in September. The government proposal is yet to be approved by the senate and signed by the president.
The country's public television station, Czech TV, has been fined 100,000 crowns for running commercials longer than granted by state law. According to the law, Czech TV can be fined between 5,000 and 2.5 million crowns if it runs commercials for over one hour a day. The Czech Council for Radio and Television Broadcasting, which imposed the fine, says commercials ran 29 seconds past the limit on February 2.
The centre of the Moravian capital Brno was paralysed on Thursday, after a number of bomb scares caused widespread disruption and saw traffic rerouted for several hours. Police, alerted by concerned passers-by, sealed off two squares in the city centre and called in fire fighters, rescue workers, and bomb disposal experts to investigate two suspicious devices. None of the devices found contained explosives or proved dangerous. Several hours later, an anonymous caller warned of a bomb in the city's Palace of Justice. No bomb was found. Police say they are yet to determine why, how, and by whom the decoys in the city centre were made.
Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda confirmed on Thursday that European conservative leaders picked EU External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten as their candidate to become the next head of the European Commission. Mr Svoboda is currently at the EU summit in Brussels, where the European constitution and a successor to Commission President Romano Prodi in November are the main topics on the agenda.