A spokesperson for the Defence Ministry has said that the Czech-American Status of Forces Agreement may be signed in September, and not, as Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg suggested recently, in a couple of days. The Status of Forces (or SOFA) agreement will lay down the conditions for US soldiers living and working at a planned American radar base in Brdy, Central Bohemia. According to Defence Ministry Spokesman Andrej Čírtek, the individual points of the SOFA agreement have already been approved by both Czech and American delegates. The final wording of the agreement, however, is yet to be settled.
The number of people visiting Czech spa-towns has risen in the first half of this year by 5.5 percent to 333,000. Just under half of those visiting the country’s spa towns were Czechs, which the number of foreigners visiting towns like Karlovy Vary and Mariánské Lázně shot up 7.5 percent to 167,000. According to the Czech Association of Travel Agents, the length of time that visitors are spending in the country’s spas is down, with the majority of tourists going for a relaxing weekend instead of staying for longer periods to convalesce. The majority of foreign guests at Czech spas come from Germany, the second largest group of foreign visitors is made up of Russians.
The opposition Social Democrats would consider the introduction of fines for underachieving students, Hospodářské noviny reported on Monday. The Civic Democratic Party, which is currently in power, is for the idea of a British-style system of tuition fees and student loans, but has said that it will not implement such a system during this term in office. The Social Democrats have always been against such a plan to make students pay. In a new proposal published on Monday, however, the Social Democrats said that they were for the idea of ‘penalisation fees’ – in other words, charging those who fail an exam, should they want to re-sit it. The shadow education minister Jiří Havel has said that such fees would not discriminate against any parts of society, as the cost of re-sitting an exam would not be that high. Mr Havel envisages charging students around 200 crowns (12 USD) for an exam re-sit, and an additional 100 crowns per term if their results were bad.
The trial of two Czechs accused of smuggling rare insects from India has begun in New Dehli. Etymologists Petr Švacha and Emil Kučera were detained bug-catching in the Singalia National Park in June. They spent one month in prison and were released on bail a couple of weeks ago. If found guilty of smuggling, the pair could face up to seven years in prison. Hundreds of scientists from around the world have signed a petition calling for their release. The pair have maintained their innocence throughout.
From the beginning of September, car-owners will be able to get rid of some of the penalty points on their license by attending a special one-day driving course, Mladá fronta Dnes reported on Monday. The course will cost 8300 crowns (503 USD) and for the moment, will only be held in Most, Northern Bohemia. Drivers who pass the course will have three penalty points scratched from their license, the paper writes. Czech drivers are allowed to have up to 12 points on their license before it is revoked.
The ruling Civic Democrats would like to speed up Georgia’s bid to become a member of NATO, Deputy Prime Minister Alexandr Vondra said on Monday. Mr Vondra said that the Civic Democrats would do all that they could to speed up Georgia’s NATO membership following Russian ‘aggression’ in the Georgian provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The views of the Civic Democratic Party are at variance with those of Czech President Václav Klaus, himself a former Civic Democrat. Mr Klaus has recently said that he holds Georgia responsible for the current crisis in the Caucuses. Russia is firmly opposed to Georgia joining NATO.
Advertising the Czech Republic’s EU presidency will cost the government 26 million crowns (1.6 million USD), Mladá fronta Dnes reported on Monday. The paper says that devising a logo for the country’s EU presidency has cost the Czech state 50,000 crowns (just over 3,000 USD), while gifts, and pamphlets about the presidency, have already cost nearly 18 million crowns (1.1 million crowns). The rest of the sum has been put towards decorating government buildings and working out an overall visual scheme for the presidency. Prague will take over from Paris at the head of the European Union in January 2009. The Czech Republic is the second post-communist country to take over the EU presidency, after Slovenia.
Nineteen Czech tourists have died in Croatia so far this year, said the Czech Foreign Ministry on Monday. This number is already higher than 2007’s tally – which was a total of 17 casualties. According to the ministry, four Czechs have drowned while on holiday in Croatia, while six have died in road accidents. The most recent tragedy was two Czech divers drowning – Croatian coast guards found their bodies on Sunday.
Milana Smékalová, the family doctor of two boys who were horrifically abused, has been cleared of professional misconduct by a Brno court. Ms Smékalová faced up to three years in prison for failing to report the boys’ maltreatment. A judge ruled on Monday, however, that there was no proof that Ms Smékalová had ever seen the boys’ injuries. It is thought that the GP will now sue for compensation. The trial of Ms Smékalová is only one part of a bigger child abuse case, in which six people, including the mother of the abused boys Klára Mauerová, are being tried. The second stage of the trial will take place in October.
The former Czech president Václav Havel has denounced what he called Moscow’s “imperial ambitions”. Speaking at the Trutnov Open Air Music Festival over the weekend, Mr. Havel noted that while the Putin regime was more sophisticated than its predecessors of the communist era, present-day Russia still appeared not to know “where it begins and where it ends”. The former Czech president said the international community should make its position on Georgia and other matters quite clear and stop treating Russia with restraint and caution. He received loud applause from the hundreds of young festival-goers who attended this year’s Trutnov festival, originally known as “the Woodstock of the East".
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