President Klaus is to travel to the United States on Sunday for a three
week visit which is expected to cover a number of outstanding issues in
bilateral relations. His talks with US top officials will focus
primarily on the US plan to build a US missile defense shield in the
Czech Republic and Poland and the lifting of visa requirements for
Czechs traveling to the United States. The Czech Republic has promised
to give Washington an official response within a month on whether the
country would be prepared to host a US radar base on its territory.
Although the final decision will be made by Parliament, the governing coalition is divided over the matter. The Civic Democrats and Christian Democrats support it, but the Green Party objects to the fact that the defense project does not involve the country's NATO allies.
All applicants for jobs in the Czech Armed Forces will in future have to undergo compulsory screening for drug abuse, Defense Minister Vlasta Parkanova told journalists on Friday. The decision comes shortly after it emerged that nine professional soldiers at the prestigious Caslav military air base - home to the country's Gripen fighter jets - use drugs. Tests were ordered at the base after the police arrested two soldiers on suspicion of drug-dealing. Minister Parkanova said that in future all soldiers would be subjected to random tests.
The Austrian government has asked lawyers to look into the possibility
of filing an international lawsuit against the Czech Republic over the
Temelin nuclear power plant in south Bohemia. Chancellor Alfred
Gusenbauer said that the request did not imply that the Austrian
government had firmly decided to take court action. Austria remains
concerned over safety standards at the nuclear plant and anti-nuclear
activists question the Czech Republic's adherence to the so-called Melk
agreement, which binds the Czech Republic to informing its neighbors
about any problems at the plant within a set time limit.
The country's heads of government agreed last week to establish a joint parliamentary commission to monitor safety at Temelin, but Austrian anti-nuclear activists dismissed the talks and have continued to effect border blockades demanding the plant's closure.
Karel Bican, bishop of the Czechoslovak Hussite Church, has not been excommunicated despite the sex scandal that surrounds him. The patriarch of the Hussite Church Tomas Butta said that Bican refuses to leave of his own accord and a vote by the Prague diocese had not gone against him. The 55 year old bishop recently admitted that he had demanded sex from a young man just released from prison in return for helping him find accommodation and work.
The Czech Catholic Church has agreed to hand over the administration of St. Vitus Cathedral to Prague Castle. The Catholic Church is thus adhering to the ruling of the Supreme Court according to which the cathedral belongs to the state. This is yet another twist in a thirteen year long legal battle between the Church and state over ownership rights. The Church won the Cathedral back only last June under a ruling by the Prague City Court but has now had to relinquish its right to it. Cardinal Miloslav Vlk said the Church would consider taking the legal battle to a European court.
The Social Democratic Party has said that the leaking of the so-called Kubice report days before last June's national election was a plot masterminded by senior officials from the right-of-centre Civic Democratic party, including current Interior Minister Ivan Langer. Deputy Social Democrat chairman Bohuslav Sobotka told journalists on Friday that the ruling coalition was not interested in solving the Kubice case following the rejection of a proposal on Thursday that a parliamentary commission be established to look into the matter. Jan Kubice, the head of the country's organised crime police unit, submitted a report to the lower house late last May that was almost immediately leaked to the media. His report suggested that organised crime had infiltrated the country's civil service, which was dominated by the Social Democrats at the time.
A new poll by the CVVM agency has suggested that around 61 percent of Czechs are opposed to the idea of the US deploying a radar base on Czech territory. The US has officially asked the Czech Republic to consider such a base as part of a broader anti-missile defence system aimed at preventing potential attacks. The Czech government has indicated a willingness to open negotiations but is expected to reply to the US request only by the end of March. The idea of the radar base, which would complement a rocket installation in Poland, has divided the Czech political scene. The ruling Civic Democrats are in favour, while some of the smaller parties have stressed the need for the project to be implemented within a NATO framework. The Communist Party - most opposed - is calling for a referendum on the issue.
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