The Interior Ministry has said that the month of June saw the smallest number of asylum seekers in the Czech Republic since 1999. While in May, 420 people applied for asylum, in June the number dropped to 317. Last June, the number of asylum seekers was almost twice as high, at 899. Most new applications were filed by the citizens of Ukraine, China and Vietnam. According to the Interior Ministry the decrease was caused by the Czech Republic's accession to the European Union, whose legislation stipulates that asylum seekers have to apply in the country in which they first crossed EU borders.
However, a few dissenting voices were heard at the Social Democrat Central Executive Committee meeting on Sunday. For example the former foreign minister Jan Kavan said he was not willing to sign a document pledging support for the new government before he actually knew its policy programme. Observers say that around ten Social Democrat MPs might follow Mr Kavan's decision. Also, the head of the lower house Foreign Affairs Committee, Vladimir Lastuvka, said the best option would be a minority Social Democrat government because he said he doubted the Social Democrats would be able to stick to their 2002 election manifesto in a broad coalition cabinet.
Customs officers confiscated illegal stockpiles of cigarettes worth more than 14,000 euros and some 120 litres of alcohol on Saturday in a surprise raid on the largest open air market in the Czech Republic, in Potucky near the west Bohemian town of Karlovy Vary. Detectives from the Czech Trade Inspection confiscated almost 700 pieces of counterfeit brand clothing worth approximately 40,000 euros. The customs officers, who arrested four people during the raid, are going to stay at the site for the next few days to monitor the market with approximately 2,000 mostly Vietnamese stall keepers. The sale of alcohol and cigarettes at open-air markets was banned in January this year.
Both the leadership and the Central Executive Committee of the Social Democrat party have approved the steps the party's acting leader, Stanislav Gross, is taking in trying to form a new government following the resignation of Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla in June. An overwhelming majority of the committee members have also agreed that Mr Gross should continue the talks with the party's coalition partners, the Christian Democrats and the Freedom Union, on the forming of a government that should last until the end of the term in 2006. Mr Gross said earlier that the new government could seek a vote of confidence in the lower house in mid-August.
Thirty customs officers and five inspectors from the Czech Trade Inspection have launched a surprise raid on the largest open air market in the Czech Republic, in Potucky near the western town of Karlovy Vary. They are searching mainly for illegal stocks of alcohol and cigarettes. The customs officers are going to stay at the site for the next few days monitoring the market with approximately 2,000 mostly Vietnamese stall keepers. The sale of alcohol and cigarettes at open-air markets was banned in January this year.
The former prime minister and chairman of the Social Democrat party, Milos Zeman, met the leader of the opposition Communist Party, Miroslav Grebenicek, and the head of the Communist parliamentary party, Pavel Kovacik on Friday. A spokeswoman for the Communist Party said that their discussion focused on the current political situation in the Czech Republic. Mr Zeman declined to comment on the meeting which he described as private. At the moment, the acting chairman of the Social Democrats, Stanislav Gross, is trying to put together a new coalition government together with the Christian Democrats and the Freedom Union. Mr Gross says he does not want to rely on the support of the Communist Party.
According to Saturday's edition of the daily Pravo, the United States will finance the construction of a new headquarters for the radio station Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Prague. The radio station is due to move out of the former Czechoslovak parliament building in the centre of Prague mainly for security reasons. The Czech Foreign Minister, Cyril Svoboda, who discussed the issue this week in Washington, told Pravo that the station's new headquarters will be built at a location with minimum security risks for both Czech citizens and employees of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Mr Svoboda also said that the US Secretary of State Colin Powell had confirmed the US commitment to move Radio Free Europe from the centre of Prague by the end of 2007.
President Vaclav Klaus laid flowers at the busts of Czechoslovak presidents T.G. Masaryk and Edvard Benes in the courtyard of a hotel in the southern town of Cesky Krumlov. The bust of president Edvard Benes has been at the centre of criticism from the part of some Sudeten German groups and politicians from Upper Austria. Benes, who was president before and after the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia during World War II, issued a set of decrees that led to the post-war expulsion of some 2.5 million ethnic Germans. Mr Klaus is spending two nights at the hotel at the invitation of its owner.
The interior ministers of six Central European countries, including the Czech Republic, agreed on Friday that they would not support the creation of special European Union police units meant to guard the external borders of the union. The Czech Interior Minister, Stanislav Gross, who chaired the meeting in the Austrian town of Fuschl am See, said none of the countries of the Salzburg Forum supported the idea of a European border police force. He added that the protection of the external borders should remain in the competence of individual states with a certain degree of solidarity in sharing expenses. The Salzburg Forum includes the Czech Republic, Austria, Slovakia, Slovenia and Hungary. During their annual meetings the interior ministers of these countries seek, among other things, to find a common stance on security policies.
Czech President Vaclav Klaus is due to spend two nights as a guest in the Hotel Ruze in order to lend moral support to its owner, who has come under fire for erecting a bust of former Czechoslovak president Edvard Benes in the hotel courtyard. Benes, who was president before and after the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia during World War II, issued a set of decrees that led to the post-war expulsion of up to three million ethnic Germans, also known as Sudeten Germans. Cesky Krumlov, a town in southern Bohemia, is a popular destination for tourists from nearby Austria and Germany, some of whom have taken offence to a quote by Benes inscribed below the bust, which reads: "the guilty will be purifying themselves before themselves and before the world of what they have done these years." President Klaus will in Cesky Krumlov for the opening ceremony of the town's International Music Festival, which begins Friday and continues until August 28.
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