Prague's negotiations with Washington on sending a Czech elite-forces unit to Afghanistan are likely to be completed by NATO’s Bucharest summit in April, Czech Defense Minister Vlasta Parkanová said in a televised debate on Sunday. The special forces unit is likely to be part of the US operation Enduring Freedom, although it could also join the NATO-led international forces ISAF. The Czechs already have a reconstruction team in the Afghan province of Logar and operate a military field hospital in Kabul.
Olympic decathlon champion Roman Šebrle was forced to withdraw from the heptathlon in the world indoor championships on Sunday after suffering a hamstring injury in the 60 metres hurdles. The Czech pulled up after the second hurdle and had to be taken off the track on a stretcher. Šebrle was lying in second place in the competition after four events, 136 points behind Bryan Clay of the United States.
A twenty-eight year old man caught trespassing in the president’s summer residence Lány Chateau died of a heart attack as the police apprehended him. The man is said to have climbed over the walls of the estate after being turned away from the main gates. He broke into the servant’s quarters and was picked up the chateau’s security camera. When the police apprehended him in the building he reportedly collapsed and died minutes after, presumably of a heart attack. The police have revealed his name saying that he had a history of alcohol and drug abuse. President Klaus was in residence when the incident happened but it is not clear whether the man had asked to see him.
The Jeseníky Mountain rescue service has called a third-degree avalanche alert, warning skiers not to stray from marked ski-trails. The service said the thaw over the past couple of days had loosened a twenty-centimeter layer of snow in the mountain’s five avalanche areas and the weight of a single skier could set off an avalanche. Holiday-makers have been warned not to underestimate the danger.
Czech university students may in future be asked to pay tuition fees. According to a preliminary draft of the planned reform a year’s tuition could cost 30,000 crowns (close to 2,000 USD) i.e. the average monthly salary of a university graduate. Students who are unable to finance their studies could ask for a loan which they would be expected to repay only after they start working and their salary reaches a certain level. The Education Ministry which drafted the proposal says it is aware of the fact that it may not be easy to push through Parliament. The strongest governing party, the Civic Democrats, supports it but the coalition is divided over the proposal and the opposition is vehemently against it.
On Sunday several hundred people took the last opportunity to view the original Devil’s Bible or Codex Gigas, one of the largest manuscripts in the world completed sometime in the 13th century. The tome, once considered the eighth wonder of the world, is the oldest Czech chronicle written in Latin. The priceless bible was stolen by the Swedish army from the Czech lands during the Thirty Years War in the mid 17th century and is now permanently housed in Sweden. It has only been exhibited abroad on three occasions – it was lent to New York, Berlin and most recently Prague. Over 61,000 people turned up to see it at the National Library in Prague.
Czech companies are still very conservative when it comes to raising money for investment and development, according to a survey carried out by the Prague School of Economics. Eighty percent of firms use their own resources for long-term financing or take out a loan for that purpose. Issuing new shares or bonds is rarely considered an option.
Two people were injured in a shooting incident in Prague’s Paříižská Street, just off Old Town Square, on Saturday. Unknown gunmen opened fire on two Russian-speaking men in the middle of the afternoon when the street was crowded with tourists. Both were hit but neither of the injuries was fatal. The police are questioning eye-witnesses.
The first Czech woman ever to win an Oscar, twenty-year old Markéta Irglová has come back to her homeland for a week-long visit. Irglová and her Irish partner Glen Hansard recently won an Academy Award for best original song for Falling Slowly from the low-budget film Once, about a busker and a Czech immigrant who meet on the streets of Dublin and become close as they compose music together. The twenty year old arrived without warning to spend time in private with her family before embarking on a tour of 25 American towns and cities with her partner Glen Hansard.
The opposition Social Democrats have stepped up their opposition to the US radar base. The party leadership is planning a nation-wide petition against the base and the party will hold a second internal party referendum on the issue in the spring. The vast majority of Social Democrats were opposed to the radar base in the first internal party referendum held recently. Social Democrat leader Jiří Paroubek last week warned party deputies that those who choose to ignore the official party line when Parliament votes on the matter could find themselves off the list of candidates when the next general election comes around.