On Monday, the US will no longer require Czech citizens to apply for a visa prior to travel. Interior Minister Ivan Langer and deputy premier Alexander Vondra are set to be among the first to make use of the change in status, according to newspaper reports – even though their diplomatic statues does not require them to possess a visa. From Monday, the requirements for Czechs to enter the US will be the possession of a biometric passport, as well as the filling on of an online form known as ESTA. Approval by the ESTA system would then permit Czech citizens unlimited entry to the US for two years – something which critics describe as a de facto visa system, although proponents point out that the end of long waits at the US embassy are a key advantage of this scheme. Mr Langer and Mr Vondra are set to be onboard the first “non-visa flight” which departs for New York on Monday.
A gas explosion in a street near the centre of the town of Hradec Králové has caused one death and six injuries, according to reports. The incident occurred in a residential home in the early hours of Sunday morning. The explosion is said to have been so powerful that neighbouring windows in the area were blasted out of their frames. Police and fire services soon arrived at the scene, and soon discovered the body of a thirty-three-year-old woman in the wreckage. After a search of the five-storey apartment, police also found six injured, including three children. A sixty year-old man injured in the explosion is said to be in a serious condition. The precise cause of the explosion, believed to have been caused by a gas leak, remains unclear.
A controversial marriage proposal put forward by the Christian Democrat Culture Minister Václav Jehlička will not be considered according to Justice Minister Jiří Pospíšil. The proposal for “lifelong” religious or covenant marriages, from which divorce would be far more difficult was rejected publicly on Sunday by the Justice Minister who stated that no citizen can surrender their future rights through such an agreement. The proposal, from which the Christian Democrats have distanced themselves was presented by Mr Jehlička as solidifying a more permanent form of marriage for Christian couples.
Five hour talks on Saturday between representatives of the governing coalition parties designed to address differences over health care reforms have ended with little progress. The talks, attended by representatives of the three coalition parties – the Civic Democrats, Christian Democrats and Greens, were held without the presence of the Health Minister Tomáš Julínek. Ultimately, only two notably less contentious out of four proposed health reform laws were agreed upon by those attending. The two outstanding proposals deal with health insurance and the provision of health related services, with divisions mainly centering over the inclusion of various fees for services proposed and in some cases already passed by the government. The Greens and Christian Democrats have increasingly voiced opposition to the impression of a health system that is not guaranteed to all Czechs, and which depends on the patients’ ability to pay for services. The Christian Democrats have also proposed that controversial doctor’s visitation fees go not to the doctor’s surgeries, but are paid to health insurance providers instead. Health Minister Tomáš Julínek later responded to this proposal by accusing the Christian Democrats of blocking an agreement. Healthcare reforms are an increasingly sensitive issue for the often fractious coalition.
Half of Czechs believe that President Václav Klaus is damaging the image of the Czech Republic, according to a new poll. The poll released by STEM also reveals that three-quarters of those polled believe that the Czech president should not present his own personal views whilst abroad. As a ceremonial and apolitical head of state, Mr Klaus is tasked with representing the Czech government and its people whilst overseas, but much to the chagrin of critics, the Czech president has rarely shied away from expressing his own often controversial views ranging from subjects such as Europe and climate change. Recently, Mr Klaus sparked controversy by meeting with a vocal opponent of the Lisbon Treaty while on an official visit to Ireland.
The Czech Justice Minister Jiří Pospíšil has signalled his willingness to renegotiate a recent law passed by the Lower House, which lowers the age of criminal responsibility and age of consent to 14. The law, which analysts suggest may not pass the Senate may now be amended to return the age limit to 15 if approved by the Upper House. The offer was made by the Justice Minister on Sunday and would involve the current law being passed, with the proviso that a new legislation would be presented next year which would return the age limit back up to 15. The Justice Minister has expressed concerns that if the current law is not passed, loopholes in the current system may not be closed. A new criminal code is scheduled to come into effect at the beginning of 2010.
More than five hundred new police cars unveiled in the city of Brno have been found to have incorrect signage. In an investigation undertaken by Prima television, 580 new police cars unveiled during a ceremony on Friday attended by the Interior Minister Ivan Langer were found to have an incorrect police seal logo on the hood of the cars. The error is a minor one; the centre of the police seal features leaves coloured blue, and not the correct green colour. Nonethless, Škoda Mladá Boleslav, the maker of the cars will be forced to correct the logo, at an estimated cost of around one and a half million crowns. In total, Škoda is set to make 3500 new police cars for the Czech police service by 2011 at a cost of more than 1.3 billion crowns.
Two hundred Czech soldiers are to be made available to assist police during the Czech presidency of the EU, it has been announced. Most of the soldiers will work as drivers for official delegates, writes the ČTK news agency. The Czech Republic is set to assume a six month long presidency of the EU from January 1 2009. As part of its presidency, the country will host various delegations from Europe and across the world, which will require additional security.
There has been a mixed response to recent comments made by the French president Nicolas Sarkozy regarding a proposed US missile defence system to be located in the Czech Republic and Poland. On Friday, Mr Sarkozy signalled his opposition to the plan, saying that it would not help European security. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has reportedly welcomed the comments – Russia remains a vocal opponent of the plan, threatening to install its own Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad if the system goes ahead, something that many fear will lead to a new Cold War. On the other hand, former Czech president Václav Havel stated that he was surprised and worried by the French president’s opposition.
A high speed train has collided with a car near the town of Kolín, just west of Prague. The incident occurred at a rail crossing at around eight in the morning on Saturday. The driver of the car is believed to have been killed, with no injuries reported among the passengers of the train. The driver of the train along with a fellow member of staff was also injured and both have been taken to a nearby hospital. The train in question was heading to Prague from the city of Brno, with services in the area suspended until the incident is investigated. Early reports also suggest that the train has been partially derailed, with estimates of the total damage coming in at around half a million crowns.
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