The chairwoman of the Czech Helsinki Committee, Anna Šabatová, has said that the European Union should not tolerate the abuse of human rights in Belarus, adding the topic needed to be discussed with representatives of the country at the upcoming Eastern Partnership summit. On Friday, outgoing Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg invited Belarus to take part in the summit on May 7, meaning that highly-controversial leader Alexander Lukashenko could attend. The chairwoman for the Czech Helsinki Committee said the invitation of Belarus to the summit was a “logical and correct” regarding the EU. But she stressed the union needed to make clear that Belarus could not be a viable partner if it continued to imprison political opponents and restrict the freedom of speech. On Friday, Czech President Václav Klaus reacted to the news of Belarus’ invitation, stating he would not shake Mr Lukashenko’s hand, nor receive him at Prague Castle.
Around 40 members of the far-right Workers’ Party have marched through areas of Krupka near the town of Teplice, waving banners with ultra-nationalistic slogans. They said they had been asked to “monitor” parts of the town by locals. Ahead of the event, police arrested two for disorderly conduct. They also confiscated knives and other weapons and have had to intervene to prevent a clash between members of the extremist party and around 100 members of the Roma community. Among those on site to monitor developments was the outgoing Minister for Human Rights and Minorities Michael Kocáb. The Workers’ Party has staged similar events before to try and drum up support. Earlier this year, the government moved to have the far-right party banned but was unsuccessful in court.
The leader of the Social Democrats, Jiří Paroubek, has warned party members to focus more on the pre-election campaign than on helping the incoming interim government. A new technocratic cabinet led by incoming Prime Minister Jan Fischer will take office on May 9 with the aim of completing the Czech EU presidency as well as leading the country to early elections. Speaking to the party executive committee, Mr Paroubek reminded members that the interim government was not the Social Democrats’ own. He also said he anticipated a tough campaign from political rivals the Civic Democrats, saying a repeat of what he called the “criminal” Kubice report “was possible”. The police document, warning of growing links between the Social Democratic Party (then head of the government) and organised crime in 2006, was leaked just days before parliamentary elections, won by the Civic Democrats.
Former Czech president Václav Havel has criticised the opposition Social Democrats for their role in bringing down the government in March. In an interview for Saturday’s Lidové noviny, the former president suggested the move, halfway through the EU presidency, was an act of “stupidity” – something he hoped voters wouldn’t forget. The government was toppled in a no-confidence vote initiated by the leftist party. In the past, Mr Havel expressed support for the Social Democrats, but now seems to have indicated a shift in sympathies towards the right-of-centre Civic Democrats – once led by current President Václav Klaus. Mr Havel suggested in the interview that the party had shifted on a number of issues. Some Civic Democrats have made clear they would welcome Mr Havel’s support ahead of early elections.
Residents in Ústí nad Labem have taken precautions ahead of a neo-Nazi march planned for Saturday evening. Earlier in the day, the north Bohemian city was described as almost empty of local inhabitants, with stores, restaurants and bars closed, some boarded up. Some 1,000 officers will monitor the march. Throughout the day, the police checked key areas for items that could be used as potential weapons. Police are also guarding sites such as the city’s railway station. It has been estimated that some 500 right-wing extremists could show up, some of them from neighbouring Germany, while around 100 anarchists could try to clash with them. The Czech far-right group behind the march has said it is marking the 64th anniversary of the bombing of the city in 1945. But observers say the real reason is to mark the upcoming anniversary of the birth of Adolf Hitler.
Three Czech soldiers operating in the Afghan province of Logar suffered injury on Friday, after their vehicle went over a hidden explosive device. The accident took place at around 2 pm local time, around three kilometres from Shank base, from which the Czech Provincial Reconstruction Team operates. All three received immediate medical attention, with the most seriously injured being airlifted to hospital in Bagram. His condition has since stabilised and his injuries are reportedly not life-threatening. The other two soldiers have since returned to their base. The Czech Republic has seen a number of its personnel serving in Afghanistan come under fire or threat: ten Czechs were injured there in 2008; two others were killed in action.
The Finnish news agency STT has reported that personal information on attendees at the recent EU-US summit in Prague was accessible on a public computer in a local hotel. The agency uncovered the information shortly after the summit - held on April 5 - had ended. The summit saw leaders from 27 EU countries, as well as US President Barack Obama, attend. According to the agency, the information included passport and flight numbers, as well as blood groups and allergies of some 200 participants, including several prime ministers and presidents. It reportedly did not include information on the US delegation. A spokeswoman for the Czech Minister for European Affairs said the public leak was a mistake by a hotel employee. She stressed that the info was not classified and had since been deleted. Helsinki may still ask Prague – which holds the EU presidency – to conduct an official investigation.
The Czech writer, poet and former diplomat Jiří Gruša has criticised Czech President Václav Klaus in an interview for the Austrian daily Kurier, calling steps by the president to play a bigger role on the international scene “alarming”. Mr Gruša was education minister in Mr Klaus’s government in the 1990s. In the interview the writer, who now chairs the International PEN Club, also criticised the recent vote of no-confidence on Mirek Topolánek’s government during the Czech EU presidency, something which he said he had not thought possible. He did express confidence that the new interim government would be able to successfully complete the role. The Czech Republic hands over the rotating EU presidency to Sweden at the beginning of July.
The head of the Christian Democratic Party, Jiří Čunek, has said he will propose that the country’s incoming cabinet push through a lowering of electricity prices in the Czech Republic. He made the statement on Friday, stressing he would make a proposal to Prime Minister-designate Jan Fischer next week. But he refused to elaborate, saying he would explain his plan - meant as an anti-crisis step – to Mr Fischer on Tuesday. In addition, on Friday the Christian Democrats confirmed they will not put forward recommendations for Mr Fischer's cabinet.
The upper house of the Czech Parliament is due to vote on the EU’s Lisbon treaty early next month, prior to the naming of a new interim cabinet. A spokesman revealed the news on Thursday, saying that the vote will take place during a session on May 6-7. There is speculation that the decision could be close, given the treaty is opposed by a number of Civic Democrats. The Lisbon treaty is aimed at reforming the functioning of the 27-member European Union, but has stalled in a number of countries, including Ireland and Poland. If it is ratified in the Czech Senate, the treaty will still need to be signed by President Václav Klaus, a well-known eurosceptic. The treaty must be ratified in all 27 EU countries to come into effect.
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