The former head of the Social Democrats' parliamentary group of
deputies, Michal Kraus, has returned to top politics more than a year
after resigning his seat in parliament following a corruption scandal.
Mr Kraus resigned from the Lower House in January 2006 when it emerged
that he had taken part in the dubious purchase of a cocoa factory in
Ghana with a man serving a ten year sentence for fraud. Mr Kraus has
now been re-elected to the Social Democrat leadership. Social Democrat
chairman Mr Paroubek said that the investigation of the so-called
"cocoa affair" was now drawing to a close and that if - as expected -
no charges were brought against Mr Kraus then there was nothing to stop
him continuing to have a career in politics.
In a pointed reference to Christian Democrat leader Jiri Cunek, who is under investigation on corruption charges, Mr Paroubek said that Michal Kraus "had behave like a real man" in the way he handled last year's scandal. Mr Cunek is currently accused by police of having accepted a bribe while he was mayor of the town of Vsetin five years ago, but has so far resisted all calls to resign.
Dry weather and high daytime temperatures have prompted meteorologists to issue a fire warning. The areas most at risk of a fire breaking out are Prague, Central Bohemia, and the Usti and South Moravia regions. Hikers and campers in the countryside have been recommended not to make campfires and to refrain from smoking. They have also been asked to not to use cigarette lighters, camping gas-cookers and other implements that can produce a naked flame. The warning is expected to stay in place until Tuesday, when a cold front should bring rain to the Czech Republic and thus reduce the risk of conflagrations.
Czech president Vaclav Klaus has said that his critical attitude to the European Union is slowly becoming commonplace among Europe's political classes. Speaking to Mlada fronta Dnes on Saturday, the notoriously Eurosceptic president told the newspaper that his opinions on Europe have now become "mainstream", citing the Netherlands emphatic rejection of the EU Constitution two years ago as an example. In the same interview, Mr Klaus told the daily that in addition to fundamental changes in the European Union, he would also like to see Czechs hold a referendum on the adoption of the euro. "Every currency is a huge emblem of the state," he said, "and in this sense, people should make the decision whether they want to lose this immensely significant symbol."
Hundreds of members of the public visited Czech Radio on Saturday during the station's Open Day. Those attending the event had a chance to get a behind-the-scenes look at activities in Czech Radio and were given a tour of the historical radio building, which was a focal point for Czech resistance to foreign occupiers during the Prague uprising against the Nazis in 1945 and the Russian occupation of 1968. Staff of Radio Prague were also on hand to introduce visitors to Czech Radio's foreign service.
Deputy Prime Minister and Regional Development Minister Jiri Cunek says the government is preparing an incentive scheme for firms who set up their business in the vicinity of impoverished Roma ghettos. Mr Cunek told journalists in the east Moravian town of Frydek-Mistek that businesses would receive state grants under the scheme if they employed Roma and other residents of socially deprived areas. The Christian Democrat leader added that he was currently working on details of the scheme. Mr Cunek had previously come under fire for comments he made about the Roma minority during an interview with a tabloid newspaper in which he said that in order to be entitled to state subsidies like Romanies, other people would need to get a suntan, behave in a disorderly way and light fires on town squares before politicians would regard them as badly off.
Small groups of right-wing extremists held demonstrations in Prague and
the central Bohemian town of Kladno on Saturday - one day after the
118th anniversary of the birth of Adolf Hitler. Around fifty skinheads
from the ultra-right "Patriotic Front" congregated at Prague's
Zelivskeho metro station and marched to the grave of General Radola
Gayda - the head of the Czech fascist movement in the 1930s. When they
got there, many were angered to find the headstone overturned. The
event's organisers blamed left-wing activists for vandalising the
Meanwhile, several dozen demonstrators from the far-right "Autonomous Nationalists of Central Bohemia" also held a demonstration in Kladno. Around forty anarchists held a counter demonstration in the town at roughly the same time. Hundreds of extra police were deployed on the streets of Kladno to prevent clashes between the two groups.
Swedish-made Gripen fighter jets are continuing to patrol Czech airspace despite the fact that Sweden has grounded all its Gripen planes after an accident involving one of the aircraft on Thursday. A Swedish air force pilot was catapulted from his plane two days ago, when his ejector seat was activated for no apparent reason. No one was hurt in the incident. The Swedish defence ministry said that it had informed the Czech Republic of the accident, but that it was up to the Czech government to decide on its own response to the incident. A Czech defence ministry spokesman said that he saw no reason why the aircraft couldn't still be used, but added that they were being kept informed of any developments in Sweden's investigation of the matter. The Gripen fighter jets have been in the news in the Czech Republic lately amid allegations that the British-Swedish consortium that makes them bribed Czech public officials to win a government tender for the aircraft.
The Communist Party's Vaclav Homolka has been elected as the new senator for the Chomutov region after the second round of voting. Mr Homolka won more than half of the votes cast, finishing about 10 percent ahead of his nearest rival Jan Rehak from the Civic Democrats. Only 9.73 percent of those eligible to vote actually participated in the poll, making it the lowest ever turnout in the history of Senate elections. Mr Homolka will replace the independent senator Petr Skala who resigned his seat earlier this year for health reasons.
The Czech foreign ministry has said that George Bush will most likely
visit Prague in early June. A spokeswoman for the ministry said that
the US president will probably be in Prague on the fourth and fifth of
June. US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice confirmed the president's
visit after meeting with Czech foreign minister Karel Schwarzenberg in
Washington on Friday. Mr Schwarzenberg was in the US to discuss
US-Czech relations as well as a proposed US radar base on Czech
territory. Speaking alongside Ms Rice ahead of their meeting, Mr
Schwarzenberg voiced support for the US plan, while Ms Rice said
anti-missile projects were a key element of efforts to counter both
terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction. Public opinion
in the Czech Republic remains mixed over the idea of the Czechs hosting
a US base and it is hoped that the American president's visit will
boost support for the idea.
Before meeting with Mr Schwarzenberg, Ms Rice described the Czech Republic as a "good ally" of the US and praised the country for its participation in foreign missions in Afghanistan and Iraq. She also praised the Czech government for its stance on dictatorial regimes in Belarus, Burma and Cuba.
In related news, the opposition Social Democrats have said they are resolutely against the government's plan to introduce patients' fees for health care, saying they would abolish them upon returning to power. The statements were made by the party's leader Jiri Paroubek on Friday. Mr Paroubek said that the intention to introduce fees for visits to the doctors' as well as for prescribed medicines was an "awkward attack on social certainties". Under the plans patients would pay 30 crowns (1 US dollar and fifty cents) per item in prescriptions, 60 crowns day in the hospital, and 90 crowns for emergency treatment. The coaltion government is aiming to see the changes implemented as part of its overall reform package in 2008.