The former Czech president Vaclav Havel has again spoken out strongly against recent moves taken by the European Union to normalise diplomatic relations with Cuba. In an open letter published on Monday in a leading Czech daily, Mr Havel said that the EU had entered into a "shameful deal" that "spit on all the principles" of democracy and human rights espoused in the draft EU constitution. The EU froze diplomatic relations with Cuba in June 2003 after some 75 dissidents were arrested and sentenced to up to 28 years in prison. But in recent months, Cuba has re-established contacts with EU member states, after they agreed to stop inviting Cuban dissidents to official embassy events. The communist island nation first re-established contact with its closest ally, Spain, and finally with those most hostile to the Cuban regime: the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland, as well as the EU as a whole. Vaclav Havel, himself a former dissident who was imprisoned many times by communist officials, is the founder of the International Committee for Democracy in Cuba, an organisation that supports the families of Cuban dissidents.
Microsoft Corporation chairman Bill Gates will pay a one-day visit to Prague on Wednesday, where he will deliver a speech at the close of the Government Leaders Forum, a kind of talking shop for information and communication technology insiders and leading politicians, sponsored by the U.S. software giant. About a dozen current and former heads of government and European Commissioners are expected to attend. While in Prague, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates is due to meet separately with Czech president Vaclav Klaus.
The parliamentary deputy Zdenek Koudelka has become the first politician to officially announce his candidature for the post of Social Democratic party vice chairman. The deadline for the registration of candidates is on Friday. Mr Koudelka is considered to be an ally of Labour Minister Zdenek Skromach, who is in competition with Prime Minister Stanislav Gross for the position of Social Democrat party chairman.
The Czech National Bank (CNB) announced on Monday that it posted a record loss of nearly 54 billion crowns in 2004 - nearly three times the loss of the previous year - due to the decline in the value of the central bank's foreign reverses, by over one-third. The reason for the loss is that the Czech currency has continued to firm in recent years not only against the weakening US dollar but also against the common European currency, the euro.
The prime minister, Stanislav Gross, says he plans to sue the newspaper Mlada fronta Dnes for its reporting of his personal finances; the daily said Mr Gross had not officially earned enough to cover the cost of his luxury flat in Prague. The prime minister on Saturday presented tax documents which he said proved he had earned more than the price of the property. But he refused to discuss a loan he says he took from his uncle, who says he borrowed the money from other relatives outside the Czech Republic.
Four people including a Briton and a German have been detained in Hradec Kralove on suspicion of distributing child pornography via the internet. The Briton and one Czech citizen have been remanded in custody, said a Czech prosecutor. She said British and German police had helped in detecting the group, which she described as highly dangerous.
Meanwhile, around 70 Iraqis based in the Czech Republic voted in Iraq's elections in Berlin on Saturday. The Czech NGO People in Need ferried two busloads of Iraqi exiles to polling stations in the German capital. Around 300 Iraqis live in the Czech Republic, and the Foreign Ministry said some of them were likely to have made their own way to Berlin.
Mr Gross's party, the Social Democrats, have agreed what they call an
"action plan" to try to win voter support. At a conference in Prague,
delegates voted to cut taxes for people on middle and low incomes,
though the details have not yet been worked out. The party will
maintain its policies of free third level education and health care.
The Social Democrats also presented a new programme called "English for All" to try and improve Czechs' skills in the language. Stanislav Gross, who himself does not speak English, said the plan envisaged higher pay for English teachers.
The party now has to present its policy proposals to the other two parties in the governing coalition.
Czech military police may stay in Iraq longer than previously expected, the foreign minister, Cyril Svoboda, said on Sunday. The Czech parliament recently voted to extend the mission of the unit until the end of this year. But Mr Svoboda said they would remain in the country as long as the Iraqi government considered their presence "useful and beneficial". Around 100 Czech soldiers are training local police officers in the south of the country.
Rent on rent-regulated apartments will rise by a maximum of eight percent a year for the next five or six years, according to the local development minister, Jiri Paroubek. The increases will affect one fifth of flats in the Czech Republic; like free-market rents they will vary in different parts of the country. Mr Paroubek said deregulating rents in one go was impossible because it would threaten social cohesion.
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