Around two thousand people marched through the centre of Prague on Saturday in support of the legalization of cannabis. This year’s Million Marihuana March got underway in city centre and ended in the Prague neighbourhood of Žižkov. Dozens of police officers oversaw the march. The Czech Republic has one of the highest rates in consumption of the drug in Europe; a 2007 poll suggested that around one third of 24-year-olds have experimented with marihuana. Although growing and possessing the drug is illegal, the country’s Supreme Court ruled last year that growing cannabis for medicinal purposes was not necessarily against the law.
In related news, Sweden is ready to assist the Czech Republic with the remainder of the country’s presidency of the European Union, the Swedish PM Fredrik Reinfeld told Swedish Radio on Friday. Mr Reinfled said his country, which will take over the presidency in July, is now facing higher responsibility because of the fall of the Czech government halfway through the presidency. The Swedish leader said that instead of waiting for the end of the Czech term at the EU’s helm, it was better to provide assistance to the new Czech government to successfully complete the presidency. In June, the EU will hold an important summit that will deal with the situation in Ireland and will also elect the new head of the European Commission.
Seventeen people are currently being tested for the swine influenza virus in the Czech Republic, the Czech Health Ministry announced on Saturday. Six people are awaiting test results in hospital while the health authorities have ruled out 51 suspected cases of the virus. Most of the patients are Czech tourists who have recently returned from Mexico and the United States.
The number of foreign patients treated in Czech hospitals rose by nearly 13 percent last year, according to government figures. Almost 80,000 foreigners received health care in Czech hospitals in 2008; most of them came from Slovakia, Ukraine, Germany and Vietnam. Health care provided to foreigners cost more than 550 million crowns, or 28 million US dollars, and was covered by foreign insurance plans or by the patients in cash.
The former Czech deputy prime minister for European affairs, Alexandr Vondra, criticized French president Nicolas Sarkozy for having complicated the Czech EU presidency, the French daily Le Monde reported on Saturday. Mr Vondra, who handed over EU agenda to his successor in the new government on Friday, criticized the French head of state at the EU summit for Eastern Partnership which was held in Prague on Thursday, and which was ignored by leaders of several EU countries including France. The former Czech deputy PM also said that Mr Sarkozy’s “imperial style” and unpredictable moods made things more difficult for the collective presidency of the bloc.
Czech tennis player Tomáš Berdych has reached the final of the BMW Open tournament in Munich. The fourth-seeded Berdych defeated France’s Jeremy Chardy 6:1, 5:7 and 6:2 in Saturday’s semi-finals; to reach the fifth ATP title in his career, he will have to beat Russian Mikhail Youzhny in the final on Sunday.
In related news, the police discovered about 1,000 marihuana plants in a house in near Děčín, northern Bohemia, on Friday. Three foreign nationals were arrested; two of them were trying to escape and police officers had to fire warning shots. The authorities have to yet formally accuse the foreigners.
A 43-year-old man was severely wounded during a WWII battle re-enactment near the community of Slivice, some 50 km southwest of Prague, on Saturday. The re-enactor was handling explosives that went off in his hands, the Czech news agency reported. He lost one of his hands and several fingers on the other hand in the explosion, and was taken to hospital by a helicopter. The history buff was taking part in the re-enactment of the last battle of the Second World War in Europe, which occurred near Slivice on May 11, 1945 between the retreating German troops and local guerrilla groups, assisted by the US Army. The fighting went until the early hours of May 12, four days after Germany surrendered to the Allies.
Every fifth Czech schoolteacher has experienced some kind of abused by their pupils, the daily Lidové noviny reported on Saturday. A poll among Czech teachers revealed that around 22 percent of them have been verbally insulted while 2.2 percent teachers have been physically attacked. Most headmasters believed teachers should be granted the status of public authority; they also suggest that the age limit for criminal liability be lowered to 14 years of age.
The 64th anniversary of the end of World War II was marked by a number of events in the Czech Republic. On Friday, President Václav Klaus laid a wreath at a monument to Czech soldiers who lost their lives in the service of other countries’ armies. The ceremony was attended by senior politicians including outgoing Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek. Mr Klaus said after the ceremony it was “a duty” to remind younger generations of what had taken place, while the head of the Czech Senate, Přemysl Sobotka, said it was necessary to remember those who had sacrificed their lives. This year, for the first time, the president did not name new generals to the Czech Army.