A new Czech consulate has opened in Toronto, which is home to the
largest number of Czech immigrants in Canada. Foreign Minister Cyril
Svoboda attended the opening ceremonies on Friday as part of his 4-day
state visit to Canada. The Toronto consulate is the third in Canada;
the other two are located in Montreal and Calgary. The Czech foreign
minister is also scheduled to meet with Canadian government officials
to discuss the issue of visa requirements. Visa relations are currently
not asymmetrical, as Czech citizens require a visa to visit Canada, but
Canadians have not required a visa for the Czech Republic since May
Czech writer Josef Skvorecky and his wife, Zdena Salivarova, who settled in Toronto in the 1960s and established the exile publishing house Sixty-Eight Publishers, were also honoured by the Czech foreign minister for their good work promoting the Czech Republic. Since 1969, Skvorecky and Salivarova have published over 220 books, the bulk of them banned by the Czechoslovak communist censors prior to 1989.
Martin Tancos and Zdenek Simbersky, two Czech citizens who spent two years in a Turkish jail, have returned to Prague. The two were serving time for heroin smuggling, but earlier this week a Turkish court released them when the real perpetrators were uncovered. Tancos and Simbersky were arrested in April 2004 while crossing the Turkish-Greek border; they had been hired to transport textiles from Turkey to the Czech Republic and say they unknowingly became accomplices in a heroine trafficking operation.
A new bill passed on Friday that promises to create a chain of non-profit hospitals is being strongly challenged by the opposition Civic Democrats. The lower house passed the bill, drafted by the ruling Social Democrats and supported by the opposition Communists. To become law, the bill must still be signed by President Vaclav Klaus. Critics of the bill on non-profit hospitals say it will harm patients and lead to lay-offs and hospital closures. On Saturday, the deputy chairman of the Civic Democrats said that his party will most likely bring the matter before the consitutional court. The Civic Democrats are also vowing to abolish the law if they secure an election victory in June.
Former Social Democratic prime minister Stanislav Gross is returning to political life as the new head of the Social Democratic Party's Committee on Security. The news has raised speculation over whether Gross' return could harm the Social Democratic Party in the upcoming June elections. The party's acting head, Bohuslav Sobotka, says that the decision will not have a negative effect on his party at the polls. A year ago Stanislav Gross resigned as Czech prime minister and then as chairman of his party over a financing scandal connected to his Prague apartment.
For the 15th year in a row, Czechs are celebrating Earth Day this weekend. There are a number of organized group bike rides happening throughout the country, and the Prague Zoo is hosting an event highlighting recycling. The leader of the Green Party, Martin Bursik, is taking part in public events; polls show that the Greens may gain enough votes to make it into parliament after the next elections. Earth Day has been celebrated since 1970 and it became an internationally recognized day in 1990.
The Czech Foreign Ministry has launched a tender for a variety of aid projects to help persecuted members of the Belarusian opposition. The projects target mainly university students who may not be able to complete their studies in Belarus because they took part in demonstrations against the Lukashenko regime. The main areas of interest for scholarships and study stays are international relations, law, economics, journalism, foreign languages and state administration.
German officials have accepted responsibility for an illegal waste dump
in Libceves in North Bohemia. Following talks in Saxony on Thursday,
the local authorities said they were prepared to pay for its removal.
The issue of illegally imported waste from Germany has strained
Czech-German relations in recent months and been addressed at the
highest level. Since the beginning of the year, an estimated 20
thousand tonnes of German waste has been dumped in the Czech border
areas. The Czech police have now charged six people, including a German
citizen, over the illegal imports. If convicted they may be sent to
five years in prison.
Meanwhile the Czech Environment Inspection Office has ordered the Bau 24 company to pay a fine of 10 million crowns (416,000 dollars) for illegally dumping rubbish in Libceves. The company's representative has appealed against the fine.
The lower house has passed a new labour code, outvoting the Senate which has previously rejected the bill. It has yet to be signed into law by the president. MPs for the ruling Social Democrats and opposition Communists voted for the new labour code, saying it allows for a greater freedom of contract while ensuring necessary protection for employees. Critics of the new labour code argue it will reduce competitiveness and increase costs for employers.
The lower house has again passed a bill on non-profit hospitals, drafted by the ruling Social Democrats and supported by the opposition Communists, as 107 out of the 171 deputies present overrode the Senate's veto on Friday. To become law, the bill has yet to be signed by President Vaclav Klaus. Critics of the bill on non-profit hospitals say it will harm patients and threaten the existence of some hospitals. Supporters of the legislation argue the new system will guarantee the availability of health care to everybody.
The Morava River management says this year's floods have caused the company damage worth 770 million crowns (32 million dollars), which is twice as much as during the floods which hit the region in 2002. The director of the state company, Pavel Mylbachr, said that the swollen streams had damaged dams and dykes and riverbeds had silted up in places.