The new Austrian President Heinz Fischer said at his first press conference since taking office that he would not demand concessions from Prague on controversial issues which have burdened the countries' relations in the past, such as the Temelin nuclear power plant in southern Bohemia or the controversial Benes decrees on the grounds of which 2.5 million Sudeten Germans were expelled from post war Czechoslovakia. The Austrian President who is to visit the Czech Republic on August 25th, said he would come with goodwill and welcome an open dialogue on all sensitive issues.
The leadership of the Christian Democratic Party on Monday approved the party's participation in a coalition government with the Social Democrats and the Freedom Union. Party deputies have started the process of pledging support for the emerging three party government. Christian Democrat leader Miroslav Kalousek said he could guarantee support from every single party deputy. The designated Prime Minister Stanislav Gross has requested a commitment in writing from all parties of the emerging coalition in order to make sure that the new government will have majority support in Parliament. Although all three parties have agreed to the measure, some deputies for the Social Democratic Party say they are not prepared to sign such a commitment until they know more about the future government's policy programme and the division of ministerial posts.
A new health care concept prepared by health minister Jozef Kubinyi has come under fire from his party colleagues. The concept is based on lower health insurance fees and greater financial participation of individual patients, such as paying for prescriptions, the cost of an ambulance, hospital fees and administrative fees at doctors' offices. The proposal has evoked strong criticism from members of the Social Democratic Party. Labour Minister Zdenek Skromach, a leading party figure, said it was in direct conflict with the basic principles of the Social Democrat's policy programme. The controversial concept will further decrease minister Kubinyi's chances of retaining his post.
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.
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.
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.
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.