Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg has defended the country's
right to decide freely about hosting a US missile defense system on its
territory. Mr. Schwarzenberg was responding to criticism from his French
counterpart Phillipe Douste-Blazy who said at a meeting of European
foreign ministers on Monday that as an EU member the Czech Republic should
not partake in a US-defense project. The Czech foreign minister also
dismissed claims that the US missile-defense system would pose a threat to
The United States on Monday confirmed its intention to begin formal talks with the Czech Republic and Poland on deploying a US missile-defense system in the two countries. The system, including ten interceptor missiles and a radar is aimed at warding off potential missile attacks from North Korea or Iran.
Czech Social Democrat leader Jiri Paroubek on Tuesday met with his German counterpart Gerhard Schroeder and the leader of the Slovak Social Democratic Party Robert Fico here in Prague. The three Social Democrat leaders, who also claim to be good friends, meet regularly for unofficial consultations regarding internal party matters, bilateral relations and EU policy.
Cardinal Miloslav Vlk has openly attacked the prime minister's decision to leave his wife for his mistress. The highest Czech Catholic dignitary broke weeks of silence on the scandal that has filled the front pages of Czech dailies. In a statement that appeared on his internet site on Tuesday the Cardinal inquired how one could trust a politician who had built his election campaign around family values but failed to respect them in his own private life. The Cardinal praised the prime minister's wife for the "moral strength and patience" she has shown in this crisis, commending especially the fact that Mrs. Tololankova was fighting to keep her family together and had offered to forgive her errant husband.
The head of the Combined Forces Command in Afghanistan, Lieutenant General Karl Eikenberry, is in Prague to discuss further Czech military involvement in the Asian country. Earlier this month, the Czech government approved the deployment of a field hospital in Afghanistan, which would be stationed at Kabul airport. In Prague, Lieutenant General Eikenberry will be meeting with Czech Chief-of-Staff General Pavel Stefka and will be awarded the Cross of Merit by Defence Minister Vlasta Parkanova.
The Czech health authorities say they have registered 93 new cases of HIV in the course of last year, which is a slight increase on 2005. The overall number of HIV cases registered in the country since 1985 is 920. Of the total, 209 have developed full-blown AIDS symptoms and 123 have died of the disease. The most afflicted regions are Prague and the Karlovy Vary region in west Bohemia.
President Klaus invited three government ministers to Prague Castle on
Tuesday for some foreign-policy fine tuning following the change of
guard in Czech administration. The meeting was attended by Prime
Minister Topolanek, Deputy Prime Minister for European Affairs
Alexander Vondra and Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg. President
Klaus said after the meeting that these were no significant differences
of opinion between himself and the new government regarding outstanding
foreign policy issues such as the EU constitution or the possibility of
the Czech Republic co-hosting a US missile-defense system.
In related news it was announced on Tuesday that Civic Democrat MEP Jan Zahradil would be the country's chief negotiator regarding all matters relating to the EU constitution.
The police say they are in possession of new evidence suggesting that the Minister for Regional Development Jiri Cunek accepted a half-a-million crown (over 23,000 US dollars) bribe when he was mayor of the town of Vsetin. In June 2002, Jiri Cunek placed close to half a million crowns in his bank account shortly after the company H&B Real withdrew almost exactly the same amount from its own account. Since the real estate company was dealing with the town hall at the time, the police suspect that Mr Cunek was bribed. Mr Cunek has rejected the accusations saying that the half a million crowns were family savings. He has also agreed to give up his parliamentary immunity and fully cooperate with investigators.
The new Czech education minister Dana Kuchtova has stated her intention to abolish entrance exams to grammar schools. According to statistics only around twenty percent of all students at Czech secondary schools are grammar school students, the rest are at vocational or apprentice schools. This is in sharp contrast to countries such as Poland or Sweden where the percentage of grammar school students is at around fifty. Minister Kuchtova said she wanted to facilitate students' entry to grammar schools by establishing new admission criteria - for instance admission on the grounds of their average grades and performance in primary school.
In related news, President Vaclav Klaus is going to take part in Wednesday's meeting of the country's security council which is to assess the United States request for stationing part of its anti-missile shield on Czech territory. On Tuesday, President Klaus is to discuss the matter with Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, Deputy Prime Minister Alexandr Vondra and Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg.
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