Otto von Hapsburg, the son of Austro-Hungarian emperor Charles I, was granted honorary citizen of the spa town of Frantiske Lazne on Saturday in recognition of his efforts to promote the peaceful unification of Europe. He was also on hand to unveil a statue of his ancestor, Emperor Franz Joseph I, who founded the spa town in 1793. Von Hapsburg, a former Member of the European Parliament from Bavaria, had gone against many in his party by objecting to preconditioning Czech membership in the European Union to the abolishment of the so-called Benes Decrees, which led to the post-WWII expulsion of millions of ethnic Germans from Czechoslovakia.
After talks with state ombudsman Otakar Motejl, Health Minister Milada Emmerova has agreed to establish a special commission to investigate fresh allegations that Romani women were sterilised without their consent in the past decade. The birth rate among the Roma is significantly higher than the general population and documented evidence shows that from 1959 to 1990 the former Czechoslovakia encouraged Romani women to undergo sterilisation by giving them cash payments, and in some cases doctors performed the operation without the women's consent. The practice was condemned by international human rights groups as racist and halted as official policy. Charges that sterilizations continued in recent years have been brought forth by the Budapest-based European Roma Rights Centre, along with two Czech civil society groups which are representing the legal interests of about 10 Romani women.
Two Czech test pilots have begun training on JAS-39 Gripen fighters in Sweden. The men will return home as pilot-instructors themselves in a few months time to begin training their Czech colleagues. The Czech government agreed to lease the Swedish jets for the next ten years. As of May 2005, the Czech air force will decommission the fleets Russian-made MIG-21s.
The board of the Czech Doctors' Association, meeting on Saturday, has backed calls to prevent the privatisation of regional hospitals until a law on non-profit hospitals is passed. Association president David Rath said the board has no objections to private hospitals supplementing health care, but was against the "general" privatisation of existing state-run hospitals. In related news, representatives of a patients' rights association said over 77,000 people in Central Bohemia have signed on to a petition against privatising Czech hospitals.
The captain of the Czech football team, Pavel Nedved, has retired from international football at the age of 32. The Juventus midfielder, who has been suffering from a knee injury in recent months, scored 17 goals in 83 appearances for the Czech Republic. Nedved, currently European Footballer of the Year, is widely regarded as the best Czech player of his generation.
The Chamber also passed an education bill under which mathematics would not be a compulsory subject in the maturita school-leaving exams. The bill now has to be reviewed by the president. There has been some debate in recent months about whether maths should be a compulsory subject at Czech gymnaziums ('grammar schools').
A memorial in Ostrava which commemorates the deportation of thousands of Jews from the city during the Holocaust has been vandalised with Nazi inscriptions. The memorial was erected ten years ago to mark the 55th anniversary of the first transport of local Jews to the concentration camp of Nisk in Poland. It was also targeted by vandals last year.
An MP who says the Civic Democrats tried to bribe him to bring down the government in a confidence vote passed a lie detector test during questioning by police on Thursday. Zdenek Koristka of the Freedom Union said last month he had been offered a bribe of 10 million crowns (around 300,000 euros), an allegation strenuously denied by the Civic Democrats. The two men Mr Koristka says approached him have declined to undergo a lie detector test, arguing that the results cannot be used as evidence in Czech courts.
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