The first 90 members of a new Czech and Slovak contingent have left Prague for the southern Serbian province of Kosovo to replace the members of the battalion who have served in the province since May. A special unit trained to suppress demonstrations will also operate in Kosovo. The new contingent will stay in the Balkans till July. It will guard a section of the provincial Kosovo-Serb border.
The Czech Prime Minister Stanislav Gross has met the Czech Republic's EU Commissioner, Vladimir Spidla in Prague to discuss above all the European social policy and the Lisbon Strategy - the European Union's action and development plan. Mr Spidla, who was Mr Gross's predecessor in the post of prime minister and head of the ruling Social Democratic Party, refused to comment whether the current situation in the party, which is losing public support, was also discussed.
Several dozen conscripts have symbolically parted with the military at Prague Castle, on the eve of the abolition of compulsory military service in the Czech Republic. As of January 2005 the Czech military will become fully professional. The soldiers, coming from around 70 units from all over the country, represented the last 2,000 conscripts whose service will end before Christmas. Defence Minister Karel Kuehnl presented the conscripts with commemorative plaques and watches to mark what he called a closing of a historical period. Czech men were subject to universal conscription for the past 140 years. The length of the service had been gradually reduced to one year after the 1989 collapse of the communist regime.
The country's main opposition party, the right wing Civic Democrats overwhelmingly re-elected Mirek Topolanek party leader at a national conference over the weekend. In a rousing speech to the assembly Topolanek vowed to lead the party to victory in the next parliamentary elections, in June of 2006. With the Civic Democrats far ahead in the polls and having scored decisive victories in the Senate, regional and European elections, Topolanek is a strong candidate for prime minister. He was recently voted one of the country's most popular politicians.
Meanwhile, the head of the ruling Social Democratic Party Stanislav Gross attempted to rally the weakened and divided party for a crucial confrontation with their main rivals in the remaining 18 months to elections. At a meeting of the party's executive leadership, Gross unveiled an eight-point plan which should help the Social Democrats to regain lost ground and restore public trust. Stanislav Gross strongly emphasized his party's pro-EU policy, warning Czechs that the right wing Civic Democrats would plunge the country into political isolation.
The Civic Democratic Party, which is slated to win the next general elections, has made it clear that it would fight the European Constitution. Addressing the conference the party's deputy chairman Petr Necas voiced radical opposition to the EU Constitution and said the party should explain its drawbacks to the public and recommend that people do not vote for it in a national referendum. The party's shadow foreign minister Jan Zahradil, said that the Civic Democrats did not want a federation of European states but a flexible structure in which countries could integrate according to their needs.
The Communist Party also planned its strategy for the months ahead at a meeting of its central committee this weekend. Opinion surveys suggest that the party would come second in elections if they were held today. Party leader Miroslav Grebenicek is advocating a change of style and rhetoric, which would attract more voters. He told the gathering that the party should make a point of distancing itself from the past and condemning the crimes committed in the 50s and in 1968. In advocating this new policy line, Miroslav Grebenicek has partly yielded to the party's reform faction headed by Jiri Dolejs and Miroslav Ransdorf. He made no mention though of wanting to change the party's name.
Meanwhile, the head of the ruling Social Democrats Stanislav Gross attempted to rally the weakened and divided party for a crucial confrontation with their main rivals in the remaining 18 months to elections. At a meeting of the party's executive leadership, Gross unveiled an eight-point plan which should help the Social Democrats to regain lost ground and restore public trust. Addressing speculation about the possible return of the one time party leader Milos Zeman, Gross said that this could not benefit the party and that in the present day Zeman had little to offer besides criticism and bitterness. Zeman has repeatedly blamed Gross for the party's poor showing in elections and its slide in popularity.
Defence Minister Karel Kuhnl on Saturday visited the Czech military police unit in Shaiba, southern Iraq. He was taken around the military base and spoke with police officers and doctors about the conditions they were working in. The country currently has a 90 member military police unit in Shaiba as well as a small surgical team which works in a British hospital. The Czech Parliament recently extended the Czech unit's stay in Iraq by another two months in connection with the January elections which will involve increased security risks.
The opposition right wing Civic Democratic Party is holding its national party conference this weekend. Addressing some 400 delegates, party leader Mirek Topolanek said the party was "on the brink of success", set to win the next general elections. He urged them to make good use of the party's victory in regional elections and so to convince the public that the Civic Democrats were a party with a vision and a future. Topolanek is running for re-election, the only candidate for the post of party leader.
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