The government has approved a plan to reduce the number of Czech troops in Iraq from about 100 to 20 next year, Czech Defence Minister Vlasta Parkanova has announced. The reduction in forces should take effect from July 2008. The decision by the centre-right government of Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek must still be approved by both chambers of parliament. Most of the current Czech contingent is deployed around Basra in southern Iraq, where one of its main tasks is to guard the international base not far from the city. The proposal to cut the number of Czech troops was raised earlier this month by Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg.
180 clients for the Sunny Days travel agency - delayed in Egypt since Sunday over mechanical problems with their original flight - will return to the Czech Republic on Monday evening; the announcement was made by the spokesman for the Association of Czech Travel Companies and Agencies Tomio Okamura. The Sunny Days travel agency's clients will return on a charter flight.
Opponents of a US radar base which could be stationed in the Czech Republic have said they will launch a protest campaign this week using a bus to tour Czech towns: the information was revealed by a spokesman for the "No to Bases" initiative on Monday. Spokesman Jan Tamas indicated the aim of the campaign was to act as a "counter-weight" to a pro-radar campaign put together by the Czech government. The planned radar base in the Czech Republic, together with a base for ten interceptor missiles in Poland, is to shield the US against potential missile attacks from so-called "rogue states".
The recent failure by the Czech Republic to secure a non-permanent UN Security Council post could impact humanitarian and development aid by the Czech Republic in the future. Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek told journalists on Monday that the government might have to reassess some projects, based on the recent results. Prague withdrew its candidacy for the council post after the country lost ground in two rounds of voting. The post was eventually won by Croatia. The opposition has blamed the Czech government for the failure. Meanwhile, last year alone the Czech Republic spent 3.6 billion crowns in foreign development aid, to countries like Angola, Montenegro, Vietnam, Zambia and many others. Afghanistan and Iraq are also top priorities. Mr Topolanek said Croatia had been underestimated and he pointed to "insufficient" intelligence work on the part of Czech diplomatic offices.
Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg has reacted to the preliminary results of early elections in Poland by saying he expects the new Polish government will push through needed reforms and will cooperate more with the EU. Mr Schwarzenberg also said he expects the new administration to be less confrontational regarding relations with Germany. According to preliminary results in Poland's election, the opposition Civic Platform (headed by Donald Tusk) won Poland's election far in front of the Law and Justice party of the Kaczynski brothers. Mr Schwarzenberg congratulated the victors, saying the result in Poland showed a shift back towards the centre on the part of voters.
The culture ministry has confirmed that Czech-born writer Milan Kundera will be awarded the Czech Republic's national prize for literature. The novelist will be given the prize for the Czech-language edition of "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" published last year. The novel was originally written in 1982 and was first published in Czech by the Toronto-based "68 Publishers". Mr Kundera, 78, has lived in France for years and has long shunned the media spotlight; only a few of the author's books have been published in his homeland since the collapse of communism, the last in Czech being "Immortality" in 1990.
Vaclav Klaus has come out in defence of city hall representatives from the Civic Democratic Party, criticised in recent days for opposition to an avant garde proposal for the new National Library. The design, by Czech-born British architect Jan Kaplicky, was the winning entry in an international competition earlier this year. Mr Kaplicky himself has stated the proposal - nicknamed "The Blob" - has been politicised. He has also complained that developments concerning the proposal were reminiscent of practices under the communist regime. Mr Klaus has countered in Monday's edition of Mlada Fronta Dnes by suggesting that Mr Kaplicky had "degraded" others' opinions, making clear in his view that assembly representatives on the issue of the library building have been criticised unfairly.
The US Embassy in Prague has reported that US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has arrived in the Czech capital ahead of meetings with the president, prime minister and others. His plane touched down in the capital on Monday evening. On Tuesday Mr Gates will meet with Czech representatives to discuss the possibility of a US radar base on Czech soil - part of a broader US defense shield in Europe - as well as future Czech military involvement in international missions.
Czech 125 cc motorcycle racer Lukas Pesek has confirmed next season a step up to the more powerful 250 cc class. The 21-year-old racer who still has a chance of finishing third in this year's overall World Championship standings, said he was looking forward to competing at a level closer to the MotoGP. The rider has signed a year-long contract with team Emmi Caffe Latte, Aprilia led by Czech-Swiss national Daniel Epp.
The head of the Social Democratic Party's deputies' club Michal Hasek has put forward a complaint to the Constitutional Court regarding the government's public finance reforms. The reforms, passed in parliament and signed by the president, are to take effect on January 1st, 2008. The opposition Social Democrats have been critical of the government's reform package for months, not least of changes in the health care and social sectors; the party is of the view that the manner in which the proposal was debated in the lower house, including an amendment motion put forward by the prime minister, was itself "unconstitutional". The fifteen-member court has the authority to strike down legislation passed in contradiction to the constitution.