The opposition Social Democrats called on the government on Saturday to link the vote on the planned U.S. radar base with a vote on confidence. The Czech Republic and the United States reached agreement at the NATO summit in Bucharest concerning the siting of a U.S. tracking radar base in the Czech Republic as part of the American missile defence shield. The treaty between the two countries is expected to be signed at the beginning of May in Prague; both chambers of the Czech Parliament will then vote on the document.
Two Czech aviators reached the North Pole on Saturday in the historic aircraft Aero L-200 Morava. After taking off from the Longyearbyen airstrip on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen, pilots Petr Bold and Richard Samus reached the North Pole at 1905 CET; during a two-minute flyover they crossed all meridians and then landed at the Russian artic base of Barneo, some 100 km away from the Pole, where they refuelled. Petr Bold said the conditions were extremely rough with strong winds and the temperature of minus 25 degrees Celsius which forced them to refuel with the engines running. The L-200 Morava was developed in Czechoslovakia in the 1950s as an light all-purpose airplane; until the end of production in 1964, more than 360 aircraft were produced.
Inflation in the Czech Republic dropped in March to an estimated 7.1 – 7.3 percent compared to 7.5 percent in February. Analysts believe the drop was caused by slower increase in the price of food as well as seasonal sales of holiday packages, and expect the inflation to come down to 5 percent by the end of the year. The unemployment rate in March also dropped by 0.3 percent to 5.6 percent; this was caused by the beginning of seasonal work such as agriculture and building industry.
Around 20 people gathered on Sunday at the site of the former concentration camp for Roma in Lety, central Bohemia, to commemorate the victims of the Roma holocaust. An orthodox service was then held in the victims’ memory. More than 300 Roma died in the Lety camp during the Second World War while another 500 were transported to Auschwitz. The Czech Republic has been repeatedly criticized by the EU for failing to remove a pig farm from the site and to erect a memorial for the camp’s victims.
The coalition Green Party decided to remain in the government but their leadership refused possible siting of a U.S. radar base in the Czech Republic. The Green Party’s national conference, held in Prague on Saturday, acknowledged the conclusions of the NATO summit in Bucharest according to which the planned American anti-missile defence shield in Europe was a contribution to the safety of all NATO countries. The conference however called on Green ministers, senators and MPs to vote against the Czech-U.S. treaty concerning the establishment of the American radar base on Czech soil. The national conference also voted that that the Green Party leader and Environment Minister Martin Bursík and Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg should remain in the government. Mr Bursík said that the vote proved to be a “total fiasco” for the opposition within the Green Party.
The police seized nine paintings on Friday belonging to the fugitive businessman Radovan Křejčíř which were to be sold at an auction. If sold, the nine works by renowned Czech modernist painters Jan Zrzavý and Václav Špála could go at an estimated 80 million crowns, or more than 5 million U.S. dollars. Fugitive Radovan Křejčíř is wanted in the Czech Republic for a number of crimes including conspiracy to murder, counterfeiting and extortion. Mr Křejčíř ran away in 2005 and is currently living in South Africa with his family.
President Václav Klaus will travel to Egypt on Monday to become the first Czech head of state to officially visit the North African country. During the three-day visit, Mr Klaus will meet the Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak as well as the Secretary General of the Arab League Amr Moussa. Mr Klaus will also open an exhibition in Cairo on 50 years of Czech archaeology research in Egypt, deliver a lecture on the transition of the Czech Republic at the Czech-Egyptian economic forum, and will also appear at a launch of a new model of Škoda Fabia.
Czech politicians have rejected the possibility of permanent Russian military presence at the planned U.S. radar base in the Czech Republic. After meeting with the U.S. President George W. Bush in Sochi on Sunday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that permanent Russian military presence at U.S. bases could disperse Russia’s concerns. Czech European Affairs Minister Alexander Vondra noted that the Czech Republic would only accept an agreement on Russian inspections to the planned installation; any such agreement will also have to entail reciprocal Czech inspections to Russia. For his part, Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg said that the proposal was a “virtual political game we don’t want to get involved in”, and the idea of Russian military personnel permanently stationed in the Czech Republic was also rejected by Interior Minister Ivan Langer.
The play-off final of the Czech ice-hockey top division, the O2 extraliga, is underway between Slavia Prague and Energie Karlovy Vary. The best-of-seven playoff began on Friday in Prague when the visiting side marked a surprising victory over Slavia 5:4. The second match of the series on Saturday saw the victory of the Prague-based team 5:2 setting the score of the entire series to 1:1. The seven-game series will move to Karlovy Vary on Tuesday for another two games.
The head of the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes, Pavel Žáček, revealed the finding of new documents pertaining to the Mašín brothers - members of an anti-communist resistance group who shot their way out of Communist Czechoslovakia. The documents reportedly date to the interrogation of family member Ctibor Novák, later executed by the regime. The documents suggest that under questioning Mr Novák admitted that the Mašíns had planned to abduct Communist Defence Minister Alexej Čepicka as well to conduct acts of sabotage. It is plausible the statements were made under the threat of violence by the secret police. Not long ago the Mašíns, along with resistance group member Milan Paumer, were recognised by Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek for their willingness to fight against the Communist regime in the 1950s.
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