The Minister for Minorities and Human Rights Džamila Stehlíková has said that Czech Roma seeking asylum in Canada should not plead persecution, as the percentage of crime which is racially motivated in this country is less than one percent. The minorities’ minister added that Romanies feeling threatened should seek help at home, from government bodies, NGOs and state institutions rather than seeking asylum abroad. Mrs Stehlíková made the remarks in response to the news that 466 Czechs have sought asylum in Canada since the North-American state raised visa restrictions last November. It is thought that the majority of these asylum seekers are Roma. Canada has said that it is considering reintroducing visa restrictions for Czechs if the number of asylum seekers crosses the 500 mark. Mrs Stehlíková caused anger amongst Romany-rights groups last month when she said that a small minority of Roma were making things hard for all Czechs traveling to Canada by seeking asylum from Ottawa.
There were two more medals for the Czech Republic at the Beijing Paralympics on Saturday. Rostislav Pohlman won discus bronze with a throw of 45.48 metres, while cyclist Tomas Kvasnička finished third in the road race. The Czech Republic now has 20 medals at this year’s Paralympics, 13 of which are bronze.
Former Prime Minister Miloš Zeman is in hospital following a kidney operation. The 64-year-old former head of the Social Democrats was hospitalized several times with kidney problems while he was still prime minister. His closest advisor Miroslav Šlouf told journalists on Saturday that he had taken Mr Zeman into a Znojmo hospital on Friday night for the operation, and that the former prime minister was still in an artificial sleep following the surgery.
An emergency landing took place at Prague’s Ruzyně Airport on Saturday afternoon, when the fire-alarm was activated on a plane heading from Croatia to Sweden. A spokesperson for the airport said that the landing went smoothly, and that there was found to be no fire on board the aircraft after all, but instead a technical problem with the alarm. The plane’s 128 passengers had to wait several hours for a replacement aircraft to take them back to Gothenburg, the spokesperson said.
Javelin-thrower Barbora Špotákova has crowned her season with a new world record. At a meeting in Stuttgart, the new Olympic and World Champion threw a record 72.28 metres at her first attempt, breaking the record of 71.70 metres set by Cuban Osleidys Menedez three years ago. Špotáková received a standing ovation from the crowd following the mammoth throw. Last month, she won the Olympic gold in Beijing with a new European record of 71.42 metres.
One man has died after two freight trains crashed on the route from Prague to Olomouc in the early hours of Saturday morning. The head of the railway inspectorate, Jan Kučera, said that a train driver sustained fatal injuries when his train crashed into the back of another at around 03:00 CET. Mr Kučera could not yet say whether the accident had been caused by human error or technical fault, nor could he tell if the first train was moving when the second crashed into it. The stretch of track is still out of service, and the damage caused by the crash is thought to run into millions of crowns.
The opposition Social Democrats say that they will call a vote of confidence in the current government after this autumn’s regional elections. At an extraordinary meeting of the party leadership on Saturday, the Social Democrats said that they would hold the vote in response to a recent blackmailing scandal which has exposed bitter rifts in the leading Civic Democratic Party. The current government has already survived three confidence votes in its term in office. This time round, the Social Democrats said that they were confident they could win such a vote, with the Communist Party, as well as dissatisfied Greens and Civic Democrat MPs potentially ready to vote out the government.
And finally, the Czech mushroom-picking championships took place in Jeseníky on Saturday. First prize was won by Petr Burd’ák from Velké Kunětice. Judges assessed the mushroom-pickers finds on quality, not quantity; contestants were only allowed to submit one basket full of mushrooms for final judging. Amongst the different criteria ranked the mushroom’s rarity, appearance, and the way that it had been cleaned. Participants had three hours to search wherever they wanted in the woods around Jeseníky. Despite the cold weather, organizers said that around fifty people took part in the competition, and judged it to be a success.
The 18th annual Pražský podzím music festival got underway in the capital on Friday evening, with an opening concert dedicated to the Czech composers Dvořák, Janáček and Martinů. The festival will continue until October 1, and consist of 23 concerts, played by nine foreign and four Czech orchestras, with more than 30 soloists making a special appearance. Pražský podzím has made headlines for events behind the scenes recently, with famous Czech conductor Libor Pešek refusing to appear at the festival after organizers used his face and name on their posters without asking his permission first. Pešek’s orchestra, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, will perform at the festival with replacement conductor Oliver Dohnányi instead.
The European Union will evaluate its previous lifting of sanctions against Cuba during the Czech EU presidency, Deputy Foreign Minister Helena Bambasová revealed on Friday after meeting Spain’s Secretary of State for the EU Diego Lopez Garrido. The EU lifted sanctions on Cuba back in June in order to try and improve dialogue with the country. The Czech Republic, known for its resolute criticism of Cuba’s regime, at first opposed the step, but consented on the grounds that the situation would be assessed annually. By comparison, Spain pushed strongly for the lifting of sanctions after Fidel Castro stepped down. Mrs Bambasová stressed that although Prague and Madrid had different attitudes towards Cuba in the long run, they shared the same goals for democracy to be established and human rights to be respected in Cuba.
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