Over a thousand people gathered on Prague's Wenceslas Square on Saturday
to protest against the deployment of a US radar base on Czech territory.
The demonstration was supported by the opposition Social Democrats and
Communists as well as the Green party of the ruling coalition.
Washington wants to site a radar base in the Czech Republic and
interceptor missiles in neighbouring Poland to counter a possible missile
attack threat by Iran. Neither country has as yet made a firm commitment.
Czech and US officials started a second round of talks on the issue in Prague this week. The Czech government said it would present a counter-proposal to the US radar treaty within two months' time, outlining the conditions under which the Czech Republic would be prepared to host a US radar base on its territory. Opinion surveys suggest that the majority of Czechs do not want the base here.
Czech-born but US passport-carrying tennis legend Martina Navratilova told Saturday's Lidove Noviny that she expected to receive Czech citizenship by the end of the year. "I do not have it yet, because I am not sufficiently organized" the 50-year-old told the paper. In the interview she harshly criticised the current state of the United States under President George Bush. Navratilova said she used to be ashamed of the former communist Czechoslovakia, which she left in 1975 for the US, receiving American citizenship six years later. "Now, I can be ashamed of what is happening in America," she explained. "The thing is that we elected Bush. That is worse! Against that, nobody chose a communist government in Czechoslovakia."
The leadership of the ruling Civic Democratic Party is striving to reach a compromise with critics of the government proposed tax reforms which would secure their support for the bill in the upcoming vote in Parliament. The proposal's main critic, former finance minister Vlastimil Tlusty, said that while he still had serious objections to the proposed tax reforms the initiated dialogue could end in agreement. Critics from party ranks argue that the Civic Democrats had made too many concessions to their coalition partners and were betraying their own policy programme. The Prime Minister has linked the future of his cabinet to this crucial reform package. Parliament is to vote on it at the beginning of June.
EU membership and regional problems topped the agenda of the two day
meeting. Addressing the gathering President Klaus appealed for a solution
to the Kosovo problem that could be accepted at a local level. Mr. Klaus
said that while the Czech Republic supported the negotiations carried out
by the UN on the future status of Kosovo, it knew from experience that a
viable solution would have to be one accepted by the local population.
"Political stability and economic prosperity do not come from
outside." Mr. Klaus said.
The UN Security Council has to make a final decision on the status of Kosovo which is technically still a Serbian province although the territory has been under UN administration following the 1998-1999 war. The 90-percent ethnic Albanian population wants full independence from Serbia. Belgrade, backed up by Russia, opposes independence as well as a proposal by UN mediator Martti Ahtisaari for Kosovo to be given independence under international supervision.
On a different topic the Czech president said that it would be unwise to accept Moldavia in the EU before its problems with Transnistria were fully resolved. Transnistria broke away from Moldavia in 1990, but no country has recognized it. The Czech president compared Moldavia's situation to Cyprus.
The Schengen information system (SIS) has been introduced smoothly and according to the plan, Czech and Slovak interior ministers Ivan Langer and Robert Kalinak said on Friday after a meeting of representatives of the countries that are to join the Schengen border-free zone at the end of the year. None of the new member states reported any serious problems with the introduction of the SIS database and the Czech interior minister confirmed that the Czech Republic would be fully prepared to enter Schengen by December 31, 2007. Originally, the expansion of Schengen was to have been accompanied by the adoption of a new, second-generation police data base the so-called SIS II, but since it was not prepared in time, SIS I will continue to serve all Schengen members.
Thirteen year old Anna, for whom the police launched a nationwide search two weeks ago, most likely never existed. DNA tests have shown that the Mauer family had an impostor both in court and later at the children's home. The court was not shown Anna, as the judge was told, but the twelve year old daughter of a well-known Brno actor, who is said to be in the same religious sect as the Mauer family. In the orphanage Anna's "role" was played by a 32 year old woman of small height with childlike features. Apparently the sect members were trying to create "a new deity" by giving the 32 year old woman a new identity. The strange case, which also involves the abuse of a seven-year-old boy, has perplexed the nation.
Several hundred techno fans have gathered just outside the town of Dobra Voda near Pelhrimov for a weekend techno party. The event has been approved and is taking place on private property. According to the local police chief there have been no disturbances so far and no complaints about the event from the locals.
Integration into the European Union is the way forward for Balkan countries emerging from years of conflicts, fifteen central and east European presidents agreed on Saturday at the close of a two day summit in Brno, Moravia. The annual gathering, hosted this year by President Vaclav Klaus, brought together the heads of eight EU members and seven countries aspiring for membership. "We were united on one fundamental issue, and that is that the key to resolve the remaining problems in this region is the perspective of European Union membership for those that are not yet in," Mr. Klaus told a news conference.
A group of Czech architects, designers and film directors have signed a petition in support of London-based architect Jan Kaplicky's design for the new National Library building on Prague's Letna Plain. The green blob-like building has sparked plenty of controversy, and its critics say that it would clash with the surrounding architecture and stand out like a sore thumb on Prague's skyline. President Vaclav Klaus is one of the buildings leading opponents, going so far as to say, that he would fight to prevent the construction of the building with his own body, in a similar fashion to Austrian opponents of the Czech Temelin nuclear power station. The architects who signed the petition in support of Kaplicky say it is time to end the hysteria around the project and let experts -rather than politicians - do the talking.
In related news, speaking at the presidents' conference in Brno on Friday Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek backed a plan for parts of a broader US missile defence shield to be hosted by Poland and the Czech Republic. He called the system a "necessary" step that would markedly increase security for the Czech Republic, its allies and neighbours. He and President Vaclav Klaus also pledged that the Czech Republic would support further expansion of the European Union. The conference in Brno lasts until Saturday.