On a 4-day state visit to Canada that is due to end on Monday, Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda told reporters that there is no reason Canada should continue to insist on visas for Czech tourists. Besides opening a new Czech General Consulate in Toronto, the main aim of Svoboda's visit is to convince Canadian officials to abolish the current asymmetrical visa requirements. Canada imposed visa requirements on Czech citizens in October 1997, following a wave of Roma arrivals who asked for political asylum in Canada. The Czech foreign minister says he is prepared to file a suit against Canada at the European Court if the meetings in Ottawa are not successful. As a member of the European Union, the Czech Republic can request that the EU impose visa requirements on Canadians. Canadians have not required a visa for the Czech Republic since the country joined the EU on May 1st, 2004.
Prague's famous Easter markets closed on Sunday, having recorded more visitors this year than in recent years. The Easter markets on the Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square are famous for their hand-painted Easter eggs and other traditional products, such as decorated gingerbread. The folk concerts and exhibits of traditional trades are also popular with locals and tourists.
The Central Executive Committee of the Social Democratic Party voted to dismiss two of its members over the weekend. Ludmila Schwarzova, the former head of the deputy transport minister's office is suspected of corruption, and Marian Kus is thought to have forged his lustration certificate. Sources say that Kus was a former communist-era intelligence agent tasked with infiltrating church circles in Czechoslovakia and Poland prior to 1989; his name appears on the list of communist secret police (StB) collaborators. Schwarzova and Kus were voted out by three-fifths of the Social Democratic Party membership.
District officials in the Olomouc region of Moravia decided to combat the expected mosquito outbreak over the weekend. Planes distributed 2.5 tonnes of the anti-mosquito substance VectoBac, which was made available by the Ministry of Health. The substance kills mosquito larva within 2 hours without harming other plants or animals. Reports warn that because of flooding earlier this spring, people should expect more mosquitoes than usual, but that the situation will not be as dramatic as it was following the floods of 1997.
Meanwhile, thus far a low percentage of Czechs living abroad have registered to vote in the June parliamentary elections. In 2002, Czech voter turnout abroad was also minimal. In order for Czech citizens to vote in a foreign country, they must present themselves at a Czech embassy or consular office; mail-in ballots are not accepted, which presents a problem for those living far away from a Czech mission. However, Czech politicians agree that a mail-in ballot should be approved. Sunday is the last day for Czechs living abroad to register for the upcoming elections.
Police in the north Bohemian town of Libcany near Hradec Kralove are continuing their investigation on the site of the company Vertex, where over 1000 types of hazardous contaminants were discovered on Saturday. The material was being stored in barrels on the grounds of a small chemical factory. According to a district official, most of the materials are crude oil-based, and those especially dangerous, like cyanides, were removed from the site on Saturday. Three people have been arrested for selling chemical goods, and for possession of hazardous materials. A special decontamination unit is on site, but no evacuation order has been issued for the area. Police have ordered an information ban surrounding the incident until Monday, when results from lab tests will be available.
A new poll indicates that Czechs are not in favour of same-sex partnership adoptions. Sixty-three percent of the one thousand people asked were against adoption rights for same-sex couples, while twenty-seven percent of respondents favoured the idea. The poll was conducted by RCA Research during the first half of April.
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.
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.