Four Czech military fighter jets have started policing the airspace of the Baltic countries within a rotating NATO security operation. The four Gripen planes will police the airspace of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, who do not have the means to protect their airspace and rely on NATO allies for assistance. In September the Czech Gripens will be replaced by Danish F-16 fighter jets. This is the first time that the Czech Republic’s air force has been deployed in a foreign operation since the end of World War II.
The interim prime minister, Jan Fischer, has said he is willing to discuss
the proposed cabinet line-up after shocking political leaders with his own
choice of candidates. Mr. Fischer was selected for the post of interim
prime minister under an agreement between the two strongest parties in
Parliament who expected to push through their own candidates for various
ministerial posts. However Mr. Fischer deviated from the planned scenario
and the list of candidates which he presented to President Vaclav Klaus on
Friday included several unexpected names, the most controversial of which
appears to be the nominee for finance minister Jaroslav Míl.
The outgoing prime minister, Mirek Topolánek, said he was surprised by the move and indicated that the proposed line-up would not win a vote of confidence in Parliament. Social Democrat leader Jiří Paroubek likewise criticized the proposed line-up, saying he expected further negotiations. President Klaus has not commented on the development.
The Fisher cabinet was expected to take over on May 8th and lead the country to early elections in October. It is not clear if this unexpected hurdle will delay its appointment.
May Day rallies were held in many parts of the country on Friday. The Communists and Social Democrats held separate rallies to mark Labour Day while the centre-right Civic Democrats traditionally met on Prague’s Petrin Hill for a happening aimed to attract predominantly young people who go to Petrin to mark the Czech version of St. Valentine’s Day on May 1st. Far-right groups and anarchists also held gatherings, the biggest taking place in the Moravian city of Brno where police were out in force for the event.
In a related development, EU health ministers on Thursday rejected a French call to suspend all EU flights to Mexico, leaving it up to individual member states to decide on whether or not to introduce restrictive measures. Czech Health Minister Daniela Filipiová, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the 27 member block, said she considered the EU to be well prepared for a possible pandemic.
The lower house of Parliament on Thursday passed an amendment to the penal code which would leave the age of criminal liability and the age of consent as it is at age 15. The amendment was drafted by the Communist Party in reaction to the new penal code which was due to lower the age of criminal liability and the age of consent to 14 as of 2010. Experts have criticized the move and in signing the penal code President Klaus likewise called it disputable. Both the Communist Party and the Christian Democrats say it was a big mistake.
Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko will not take part in the EU’s
Eastern Partnership summit due to be held in Prague on May 7th, the CTK
news agency reported on Friday, citing a source close to the Czech EU
presidency. According to the source, Belarus will be represented by Deputy
Prime Minister Vladimir Semashko. President Lukashenko has come under fire
for his authoritarian style of rule and there were mixed feelings about
whether Belarus should be invited to the summit. President Klaus made it
clear that he would not be welcome at Prague Castle if he did arrive.
The Eastern Partnership scheme aims to forge closer ties between the EU and six former Soviet republics, a plan that has angered Moscow. It aims to accelerate political and economic reforms in the region in return for EU support and concessions of trade and travel. While the Czech EU presidency has championed the project some of the old EU member states remain lukewarm about the idea.
The Czech health authorities on Friday ruled out another suspected case of swine flu, twenty more people are being tested. The authorities have tightened security measures at Prague’s Ruzyně Airport and people arriving from Mexico now have to undergo thermal screening before being allowed to enter the country.
As of May 1st Czechs will no longer be able to buy flu medication containing pseudoefedrine over the counter. In line with a new amendment to the law flu medicine such as Coldrex or Stopgrip will only be sold to people in small amounts on the basis of a health insurance card and ID. The move is an attempt to curb abuse of the substance in the production of the illegal street drug pervitin. However it involves putting personal data into a central evidence system and some pharmacies will not be selling flu medicine at all for fear of violating the privacy law. The matter is being investigated by the Office for Protection of Private Data.
Czech industrial production fell by 17.5 in March compared with the same month a year earlier according to preliminary figures released by the Czech Statistical Office. Adjusted to take into account the two extra working days in March, the production fall is estimated at 20.9 percent. Production fell by 23.4 percent in February. The value of new orders of the books of companies fell by 16.7 percent in March compared with a year earlier.
In related news, Czech health minister Daniela Filipiová chaired a special meeting of EU health ministers to discuss the swine flu threat on Thursday. The Luxembourg meeting was due to take stock of the threat so far, steps taken by individual countries and what joint measures should be adopted at an EU level. One of its main conclusions was not to back a French call for a ban on flights to Mexico. The Czech presidency of the EU has said it is convinced that coordinated EU steps against swine flu are required. So far, the deadly virus has spread to several EU states, including Czech neighbours Austria and Germany. The World Health Organisation late Wednesday raised its assessment of the risk of a pandemic from four to five, the penultimate level.
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