Giving Romany children equal access to mainstream education may take years, Education Minister Ondřej Liška said in response to a critical report by the European Roma Rights Centre on Thursday. The report said that many Romany children were still being placed in special schools for children with learning problems and handicaps which dramatically lowered their chances of later integrating in society. A number of government programmes in aid of Romany children were introduced within the 2005 education reform but minister Liška said it was too soon to see results. He said he expected a marked improvement by 2011.
The Czech media have come out strongly against the new penal code, approved by the lower house on Tuesday, saying it would curtail freedom of speech. The country’s leading dailies, magazines and tv stations criticize an article in the bill that bans the publishing of information from recorded police wiretappings, saying that it would infringe on their right to provide information. A dozen editors in chief have signed a joint petition to the upper house, asking senators to reject the new penal code and get the controversial article debated by media experts. The Justice Ministry which drafted the new penal code has dismissed the criticism. If approved by the Senate and signed by the president the new penal code would come into force in 2010, replacing the current law from 1961.
The police have cracked down on a ring of people smugglers active on the country’s eastern border with Slovakia. The police accused five Mongolians of organizing illegal border crossings for which they face up to eight years in prison. A Czech lawyer in also being prosecuted in the same case. The man faces up to 12 months in prison for helping the migrants to obtain fake documents.
The governor of Karlovy Vary Veronika Vlková has resigned from office. Mrs. Vlkova said that health reasons as well as the Social Democrats victory in regional elections were behind her decision. Mrs. Vlková, a member of the right-wing Civic Democrats, served as governor of Karlovy Vary since the beginning of 2006.
The diplomatic row over President Klaus’ visit to Ireland has divided Czech politicians, some have come out in his defense, others say his behaviour was inappropriate. Mr. Klaus, who in Dublin publicly labelled himself an EU dissident, chose to meet with the leader of the eurosceptic group Libertas Declan Ganley on Tuesday evening and made a number of outspoken comments about the EU which the Irish foreign ministry described as inappropriate intervention into the country’s internal affairs and an unprecedented breach of diplomatic courtesy. Mr. Klaus and the Irish foreign minister, Michael Martin, exchanged angry words via the press with Mr. Martin describing the Czech president’s comments as "misguided, misinformed and insulting" and Mr. Klaus calling him a hypocryte. In Prague, Prime Minister Topolánek said the president was free to voice his opinions and meet with whomever he pleased, but ministers for the Christian Democrats and the Green Party called his behaviour highly inappropriate, saying Mr. Klaus was rocking the boat ahead of the country’s EU presidency.
Croatia looks set to complete EU accession talks before the end of next year, Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg said after a meeting with his Croatian counterpart Gordan Jandrokovic in Prague on Thursday. Mr. Schwarzenberg reiterated the Czech view that further EU enlargement should not be linked to progress on the Lisbon treaty. Croatia is the hottest candidate for EU entry and the Croatian foreign minister said he hoped that the Czech Republic’s EU presidency would lend the accession talks new dynamics.
The National Reference Laboratory for AIDS says the number of HIV cases registered in the Czech Republic in the first ten months of this year has already surpassed last years overall figure. The 128 cases registered up until the end of October indicate the steepest growth in the spread of HIV since testing started in the mid-1980s. In all, the laboratory has registered 1,170 HIV cases of both Czechs and foreigners living in the Czech Republic. Of those 261 have developed full-blown AIDS. 142 people have died of AIDS in this country.
The Czech Republic plans to invite U.S. President-elect Barack Obama to a summit meeting with the 27 EU states in Prague on April 2, the country’s ambassador to the EU Milena Vicenová, said on Thursday. The Czech Republic which takes up the rotating EU presidency on January 1st has said transatlantic relations and improving economic cooperation with the United States would be a priority for the six-month Czech EU presidency. Mr. Obama, who will take office in January, is due to attend a NATO summit in Strasbourg on April 3-5.
Voting on a number of reforms to the Czech Republic’s healthcare system has been delayed, after the proposals were sent to an expert committee for further analysis. Health Minister Tomáš Julínek’s proposed reforms will now be decided upon next week, it was agreed. The Civic Democrats’ coalition partners, the Christian Democrats, were unhappy with a clause in the reforms pertaining to abortion, while the coalition’s Greens were unhappy with proposed changes to the Czech healthcare insurance system. The group of experts, made up of coalition MPs, now has a week to remove or alter the more controversial facets of the healthcare reforms, Mr Julínek said.
The Czech government unveiled the logo for its upcoming EU presidency on Wednesday, in the second phase of its pre-presidential information campaign. The logo reads, in simple block-coloured writing, EU2009.cz – the internet address for the official website of the Czech presidency. The logo takes over from the government’s first advertising campaign to publicise the presidency, which courted controversy at home and abroad. The first advert centred upon a sugar-cube - said to be a Czech invention - and featured an ambivalent slogan meaning in one reading ‘we’ll give Europe a taste of its own medicine’.
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