In directly related news, as the protest got underway the coalition government on Friday signed an agreement postponing the new leaving exams until 2010. At that time students will be tested on their knowledge of the Czech language and literature as well as a foreign language. A third subject - chosen by students themselves - will be added in 2012.
The French football association has cleared Czech international Milan Baros of accusations of racism. However, the Lyon striker was found guilty of unsporting behaviour and banned for three games, after holding his nose and making a wafting motion at a black player from an opposing team. Baros's suspension is bad news for the Czech national team, as he could lack match fitness ahead of a Euro 2008 qualifier against Wales on June 2.
A Czech soldier was killed and another suffered serious injury when they were hit by a landslide of rock and mud in Afghanistan. The accident took place on Thursday night during a strong storm about 30 kilometres from the Czechs' base. Four vehicles and fourteen military personnel were travelling in the area when the landslide took place. The Foreign Ministry has said that the body of the soldier killed will be sent to Kabul and then home to the Czech Republic. The other soldier, who suffered injury, is reportedly now in stable condition. The Czech Republic has a number of military teams operating in Afghanistan including 83 soldiers in the province of Faryab in the north of the country.
A new poll released by the STEM agency has suggested that two-thirds of Czechs take a negative stance towards Romany citizens with only 1 in 20 taking a positive view. The poll's authors say that the results of the survey have confirmed the negative attitude has been stable for a number of years. Roma groups and human rights activists have criticised what they see as an "anti-Roma mood" recently fuelled by statements made by Deputy Prime Minister Jiri Cunek alluding to the Roma as troublemakers. Mr Cunek apologised but maintained his words had been misunderstood.
Around five thousand high school students protested in Prague on Friday morning against new state high school leaving exams being introduced too soon. According to current legislation, uniform leaving exams were supposed to be introduced in 2008. But student protestors have said the exams have not been prepared well enough to be put into use yet. On Friday students made their way through the capital, whistling and carrying placards, stopping in front of the Education Ministry. Traffic was temporarily burdened in a number of areas but there were no serious incidents.
The Janacek Academy of Music and Performing Arts in Brno (JAMU) has awarded Czech-born British playwright Tom Stoppard an honorary doctorate for his contribution to theatre. In a speech on Friday the drama faculty's dean, Josef Kovalcuk, pointed to five primary reasons Mr Stoppard had been awarded the doctorate, among them the author's refined use of language in his work, and successes such as Arcadia and Rock 'n' Roll. He also pointed to Mr Stoppard's notable support for the dissident movement in communist Czechoslovakia during the so-called "Normalisation" period. Mr Stoppard, present at the ceremony on Friday, suggested that although he had grown up "far away" he was always aware of his family's roots in Moravia.
A bill on a special referendum put forward by the Social Democrats and the
Communist Party will continue to be debated in the lower house, although
the chances of its ultimately being passed are slim. Both parties are
calling for a plebiscite to be held on the issue of a proposed US radar
base hosted by the Czech Republic as part of a broader US missile defense
shield. The bill passed in a first reading on Friday with the help of a
Christian Democrat MP and two former Social Democrats who helped the
government win its confidence vote in January.
Because the bill requires a change to the constitution it would need three-fifths support in the 200 member chamber to be pushed through. That is not likely given the country's largest party, the right-of-centre Civic Democrats with 81 MPs alone, are against. Other coalition parties the Greens and all but one Christian Democrat on Friday - are also against.
The Czech ice hockey team suffered a shock defeat at the hands of Germany at the World Championships in Russia on Thursday evening. After winning all their three previous games, the Czechs lost 2:0 to the Germans, whose goaltender and defence put in a solid performance. It was the first time the Czech Republic had been beaten by Germany since 1996.
The fate of the government remains uncertain, after Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek rejected changes to a reform package proposed by rebel Civic Democrat MP Vlastimil Tlusty. Mr Tlusty, briefly finance minister in a previous government, presented his version of a major package of tax and social welfare changes at a party meeting on Thursday. But while the prime minister said some of the MP's ideas were superb, he said they could not take precedence over agreements reached between the three governing parties. If Mr Tlusty carries out his threat to vote against the cabinet's reform bill the coalition could fall.
Flooding last spring on the Elbe River in the Czech Republic and Germany is estimated to have caused damages of 240 million euros, the equivalent of around 326 million US dollars. The estimate was tabulated by the International Commission for the Protection of the Elbe, a spokesman for the Environment Ministry said on Friday. The flooding on the Elbe took place last March and April. It was caused by the melting of unusually high snow cover as well as persistent rainfall. According to specialists, the winter/spring floods were the biggest on the Elbe since 1940.
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