The foreign ministers of the Visegrad Four and the Baltic states have agreed to join forces in an effort to achieve a visa-free regime for travelling to the United States. At the instigation of Czech Foreign Minister Alexandr Vondra they agreed in New York City on Thursday to form a so-called "Coalition for Visa Equality" within which they will coordinate future steps. Of the newest EU member countries, only Slovenian citizens are exempt from visas when travelling to the US.
Police in Prague were involved in a dramatic car chase in the Czech capital late Thursday. The chase at close to midnight put police on the tail of a stolen Peugeot, driven by a 17-year-old car thief. The suspect purposely drove into the opposing lane - into on-coming traffic - to try and lose his pursuers. He was said to be going at 150 kilometres an hour. According to reports, police shot and hit the car's tires a number of times, but the chase ended when the stolen car hit another vehicle. The suspect suffered light injuries.
The majority of members of the editorial staff at the Czech weekly
"Respekt" have handed in their notice in protest of proposed changes at
the weekly. The step was taken on Thursday. According to one source the
daily has lost some 80 - 90 percent of its writers. Milos Cermak,
strategic director at the paper, was brought in to introduce changes to
try and turn around the weekly's flagging fortunes: for four years now
the daily has operated at a loss. Mr Cermak told the Internet server
idnes.cz he didn't understand the rationale behind the staff's
decision, saying he had given guarantees that coming changes would not
affect "continuity" of authorship, nor change the target readership.
Respekt was one of the first weeklies to emerge following the Velvet Revolution: it has roots in the samizdat - "illegal" writing published clandestinely in Communist Czechoslovakia prior to November 1989.
The Chamber of Deputies will hold an extraordinary session next week to discuss questions of alleged wiretapping of politicians and journalists - raised by Interior Minister Ivan Langer earlier this week. On Wednesday the interior minister suggested that some twenty senior officials and journalists could have been wiretapped under the past government in connection with the leak of a secret report by police unit head Jan Kubice. Mr Langer said that he received the information from journalistic circles. The opposition Social Democrats have expressed outrage over the allegations and demanded immediate proof.
The largest private carrier in the Czech Republic - Travel Service - has agreed with Boeing to acquire two new Boeing 737-900 ER jets. The contract is said to be worth 1.8 billion crowns (the equivalent of around 81 million US dollars). The jets are to be delivered by 2009. The new planes will be able to travel farther than Travel Service's current flotilla - up to 6,000 kilometres, with 200 passengers.
In related news, Gijs de Vries, the counter-terrorism coordinator for the European Union, has called for the lifting of US visa restrictions for all the EU newcomers, including the Czech Republic. Mr de Vries pointed that the US was the EU's number one partner in the fight against terrorism, while speaking at a conference on the subject in Prague on Friday. Mr de Vries said that the understood US concerns over safety but stressed that an equal approach was needed towards all EU citizens.
A new poll conducted by the STEM agency has suggested that a majority of Czechs would like to see early elections. June's national election ended in a parliamentary stalemate, producing only a minority government that has not yet been tested in a vote of confidence. A total of 62 percent of those polled in the survey replied they were "in favour" of early elections, while 38 percent said they were "against". The current cabinet led by Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek has pledged to hold office only in an interim period and to push for elections in the spring of 2007. The government faces its confidence vote on October 4th, but it is widely expected not to pass. According to some observers, at most the government can expect an even split in the vote, leading to the government's resignation.
A Prague court has rejected a request by businessman Tomas Pitr, asking for the deferral of a five year prison sentence he was handed down for tax fraud. As reason for the deferral Mr Pitr cited the birth of a new child - a reason rejected by the court. The businessman was sentenced for improper tax payment dating back to 1994. He has asked for a new trial, a matter that the court will look into in November.
A poll released on Thursday suggests that support for the ruling right-wing Civic Democrats has risen after months of a political stalemate which threatens to force an early election. The survey by the STEM agency predicted a centre-right bloc led by the Civic Democrats would win 109 seats in the lower house of parliament against 91 seats for the combined leftist Social Democrats and the far-left Communists. The poll confirmed some other public opinion research in the past months that showed a rise in popularity for the party which formed a minority cabinet earlier this month, but seems set to lose a confidence vote in early October.
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