Pope Benedict XVI is scheduled to visit the Czech Republic between September 26-28, the Czech Bishops’ Conference said on Sunday. The dates are yet to be confirmed by the Vatican, a spokesperson for the conference said. Czech bishops have pushed for the pontiff to visit the country on September 28, which is when the Czech Republic remembers its patron saint, Saint Wenceslas. This year’s papal visit will be the first of its kind for over a decade. Pope John Paul II visited the Czech Republic on three occasions, the last being in 1997.
Caretaker Prime Minister Jan Fischer met candidates for posts in his cabinet on Monday, but has yet to formally announce the names of any of his ministers. On Monday, Mr Fischer met the head of the Antimonopoly Office, Jan Pecina, who has been put forward by the opposition Social Democrats for the post of interior minister. The caretaker prime minister also met Martín Barták, who is nominated for the post of defence minister, and with possible future culture minister Marta Smolíková. On Monday, the interim prime minister also held a meeting with outgoing deputy prime minister for European Affairs Alexandr Vondra and his deputy Marek Mora. Mr Fischer’s cabinet will take over the country on May 9 and oversee the last third of the Czech Republic’s EU presidency.
A Romany toddler who suffered severe burns after her home was torched on Saturday remains in a critical condition, doctors in Ostrava have said. The girl suffered burns to more than 80 percent of her body after unknown assailants used petrol bombs to set her family’s home alight. The attack, which took place late on Saturday evening, is thought to have been racially motivated. Both the outgoing Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek and Czech President Václav Klaus have spoken out against the violent attack. One Romany rights group has warned the country’s Roma minority to be vigilant against ‘terrorist attacks by Czechs’ in light of the fire. The infant’s 27-year-old mother was also badly injured in the attack, while her father is undergoing surgery to treat burns on his limbs and back.
The state-owned air-carrier ČSA will not be bought by Russian airline Aeroflot, the outgoing cabinet decided on Monday. Of four potential bidders, the government has narrowed the competition down to two. Speaking on Monday, Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek said that only Unimex Group and Travel Service, who are launching a joint-bid with KLM-Air France, would be put forward for consideration, while Aeroflot and Odien were no longer in contention. The Finance Ministry refused to comment further on the criteria used to select the bidders. ČSA is expected to be privatized by this October; it is predicted that it will fetch around 4.5 billion crowns (215 million USD).
Some 43 percent of Czechs believe that the toppling of the government halfway through this country’s EU presidency damages the image of the Czech Republic abroad, a poll conducted by the Factum Invenio agency and published on Monday suggests. Thirty-six percent of those polled, however, think that the change of leadership in Prague makes no difference whatsoever to the way that the country is perceived. According to the survey, eight percent of Czechs actually think that the change of government will improve the Czech Republic’s image in Europe. The Czech Republic took over from France at the helm of the EU on January 1, it hands over to Sweden on July 1.
Canada has received some 570 asylum claims from Czechs so far this year, the news website Novinky.cz reported on Monday. It has granted asylum to 84 of these applicants, the website added. Novinky.cz reported that the majority of Czechs seeking asylum in Canada are from the country’s Romany minority. Last week, Canada warned against growing numbers of asylum claims being lodged by Czech citizens in Ottawa. Immigration minister Jason Kenney said that he understood the Czech Republic ‘had its shortcomings’ but that he found it hard to believe that the country was an ‘island of persecution’ in the middle of Europe. Canada lifted visa restrictions for Czechs in 2007, there is speculation that Ottawa may reintroduce visas for Czechs if the number of asylum claims does not drop.
The outgoing government approved the purchase of four Spanish Casa-C-295M aircraft on Monday in a deal worth more than 3.5 billion crowns (168 million USD). The aircraft are being purchased from the Spanish EADS consortium. The transport planes will be brought into use by the Czech army by 2011, they will replace obsolete Soviet-made Antonov An-26 planes. Such Casa-C-295M planes are already used by the Spanish, Finnish and Polish military.
The Czech EU presidency has apologized for a leak of ‘sensitive’ data on politicians who attended the recent EU-US summit in Prague. In a statement on its website, the presidency admitted that a publicly accessible computer in a Prague hotel displayed information on officials taking part in the summit, which took place on April 5. The cause of the leak was ‘unintentional human error’, the presidency said, adding that it ‘regretted that this situation had happened’. A Finnish tourist stumbled across politicians’ passport numbers, flight details and medical information on a public access computer, the Finnish news agency STT reported on Friday. The Czech EU presidency responded that the necessary ‘personnel policy measures’ would be taken as a result of the leak.
Policing a rally staged by more than 500 far-right militants in Ústí nad Labem on Saturday cost more than 6 million crowns (288,000 USD), a local police spokesperson said on Monday. Some 1,250 police officers, the majority of whom were riot police, were mobilised in a security operation which included the seizure of guns, knives and baseball bats. Saturday’s march ended without violence, though two men were arrested, police said. The march was organized to commemorate the bombing of Ústí in 1945, though many said that this was a mere pretext for marking the anniversary of Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler’s birth, which falls on Monday.
President Václav Klaus has condemned an attack against a Romany family in Vítkov in the Opava region, calling it a “brutal” and heinous act”. Members of the family – including a two-year-old child - suffered serious injuries on Saturday when unknown perpetrators used petrol bombs to set their home alight. The Molotov cocktails caused an extensive fire: the family’s two-year-old daughter suffered severe burns to more than 80 percent of her body. She remains in hospital in critical condition. Details on the police investigation have not yet been revealed and it is unknown whether the attack was racially-motivated.
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