Former Czech president Vaclav Havel and twelve other prominent world figures have signed an open letter calling for the world to end "autocratic" rule in Belarus. In the letter published on Saturday, the signatories accuse President Alexander Lukashenka of routinely violating basic human rights and civic freedoms. They also warn that the last independent daily in the country, Narodnaja Volja, is in danger of being shut down. Apart from Vaclav Havel, signatories to the letter include the Czech senator Karel Schwarzenberg, the Hungarian-born billionaire philanthropist George Soros and Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa. They are calling on the United Nations and world governments to make a united push for democracy in Belarus.
The newly appointed minister of culture, Vitezslav Jandak, has said that he never suspected that the casino for which he helped establish a charitable foundation in 2001 had connections to organised crime. The Little Lion (Levice) children's foundation of which Mr Jandak was a founding board member was established by and received donations from the now defunct casino Royal. That casino's de facto owner, Assaf Abutbul, survived an assassination attempt in Prague last spring. Mr Abutbul's father was an Israeli crime boss known as 'The Butcher' who was himself killed nearby the casino in August 2002. Culture Minister Jandak told the daily Pravo that he was concerned only with the work of the charity, and had no reason to investigate the casino's other business.
FC Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has confirmed that the English club are weighing up bids from Aston Villa and Lyon for striker Milan Baros, a Czech national. Baros, a top scorer for the Czech national team in the most recent European championships, is expected to leave Liverpool before the end of the transfer window.
Private security firms operating in Iraq have been actively recruiting in the Czech Republic, the daily Mlada fronta Dnes reports. A young man who passed a training course in the town of Zlin told the newspaper that he was lured by promises of 80 US dollars an hour once posted in Iraq, which is fifteen times the average Czech wage. Authorities here say it is unclear how many Czech nationals have been recruited to do private security work in Iraq.
The already strong Czech currency is expected to gain against the common European currency and the US dollar in September, market analysts have said. The prediction follows on news that the Czech foreign trade surplus for the first half of 2005 has been revised upwards, from 38 to 44 billion crowns. Economists say that GDP growth could now exceed 4.4 percent for the first-quarter of this year. The improved results should strengthen the crown from its current level of around 29.40 to the euro and 24.22 to the US dollar.
The business daily Hospodarske noviny reports that the newly named Minister of Culture, Vitezslav Jandak, co-established a charitable foundation with indirect ties to an Israeli mafia family. In 2001, Mr Jandak helped form the 'Little Lion' (Lvice) foundation with people connected to a now defunct casino owned by the Abutbul crime family. The casino was shut down in 2004 after police began investigating its origins, following a failed attempt to kill its de facto owner. Casinos are required by law to donate a share of proceeds to charity. A bill now in Parliament would prevent casinos from donating to related organisations.
The lower chamber or Parliament also voted down the Senate's veto of an amendment banning the privatisation of regional hospitals. The senior ruling Social Democrats and main opposition Communist party, who united to uphold the ban, argue that if privatised, hospitals would focus on lucrative treatments, which would threaten the quality of general health care. The centre-right Civic Democrats reject that argument and say they may file a compliant to the Constitutional Court to have it reversed, should President Vaclav Klaus sign the bill into law.
Austria has extended until 2009 the transition period during which Czech nationals must seek approval to work in that neighbouring European Union country. The Minister of Economics for Austria, Martin Bartenstein, said the possibility that in it could be extended again in three year's time could not be ruled out. Ahead of EU expansion last year, Austria and most other original 15 EU member states imposed restricted access to their labour markets for newcomers like the Czech Republic.
The lower house of Parliament passed an amendment to the labour law on Friday that would reward employers who create so-called "socially beneficial" jobs for fresh university graduates, handicapped people, and those younger than twenty-five or over the age of fifty. According to the Labour Office, people of those ages make up one-third to one-half of the unemployed nationwide.
A poll by the STEM agency found that only one in four Czechs want the ratification process for the EU constitution to continue. Four out of ten respondents said that the ratification process should be suspended, and nearly as many said they thought it should simply end. So far, 12 countries have ratified the treaty. Prague has joined several other capitals that have delayed or suspended plans to hold a referendum on the EU Constitution. These including London, Dublin and Copenhagen.