A conference aimed at supporting the Cuban dissident movement is currently underway in Prague. The event, which has brought together several former European and American heads of state and government, is organized by the International Committee for Democracy in Cuba at the initiative of the former president Vaclav Havel. Opening the conference on Friday, Mr. Havel expressed the hope that the political regime in Cuba would change in the near future. He said Cuban dissidents should not only think about ways of overthrowing Fidel Castro but also about what would need to be done in the post-Castro period. The former Czech president spent more than five years in communist jails and his solidarity with the Cuban dissident movement is particularly strong.
The first fifty members of a Czech reconnaissance unit who took part in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan have returned home. The rest of the 100 member unit are expected back in the course of the next three days. For six months the unit helped to search for members of Al Qaida in the Taliban mountains at an altitude of 4,000 metres above sea level. They allegedly received high praise from the allied command, but Parliament decided against extending the mission. In a related development, it was confirmed earlier this week that Czech troops may work with a German military team to help prepare infrastructure and security in Northern Afghanistan for October's presidential election. The Czech Republic is prepared to make 40 soldiers available in the near future.
Health Minister Milada Emmerova is receiving letters of complaint from the public after she urged citizens to write and let her know what problems they faced in the health sector. Following her invitation to the public last week, the minister allegedly received 120 complaints in a matter of days. They include criticism of health care ethics, health insurance companies and health care facilities. The minister said she was dealing with each and every case and would not leave any letter unanswered.
The police have disclosed facts relating to a false bomb alert which forced the national carrier Czech Airlines to cancel a flight from Greece last week. A thirty year old woman with a foreign accent allegedly called the airlines' client centre and informed them that a bomb would go off on flight 423 from Athens. Although the Greek police found nothing suspicious onboard the plane, another call from the woman shortly before departure led to the flight being cancelled. The Czech police arrested the perpetrator shortly after she made her second call from a pay phone on Wenceslas Square. The woman, a foreign national, has been charged with scaremongering. She claims to have made the calls in order to prevent her boss's return from a business trip to Greece.
The much-respected Zlin-born businessman Tomas Bata is celebrating his 90th birthday at a reception at Prague Castle on Friday evening. Among the guests at the party will be President Vaclav Klaus and his predecessor Vaclav Havel. Mr Bata, the former head of the Bata shoe company, has been living in Canada for 65 years.
A two-week British-Czech air defence exercise which continued despite the deaths of six British soldiers in a helicopter crash came to an end on Friday. The six burned to death when their Lynx helicopter crashed on September 9 around 30 kilometres west of Brno. The cause of the accident is still being investigated.
A three-day conference of the Prague-based International Committee for Democracy in Cuba got underway at the Czech Senate on Friday. The conference, entitled "For Democracy in Cuba", is being attended by eminent figures such as former Czech president Vaclav Havel, former Solidarity leader and Polish president Lech Walesa and the former presidents of Chile, Costa Rica and Uruguay.