Czech pilots who began protecting Baltic airspace within NATO earlier this month were used in action for the first time on Thursday. Their Czech Gripen Jas-39 jets were scrambled after a German civilian plane violated the no-fly border area between Lithuania and Russia. The jets were ordered to monitor the aircraft closely after the craft failed to respond on an emergency frequency. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania do not have their own fighter planes; the Czech Gripens will patrol the airspace over the Baltic countries for four months.
British pop group Simply Red will perform in Prague on Sunday – part of a tour which singer Mick Hucknall has said will be the band’s last. Simply Red have performed together for 25 years, with hits like Holding Back the Years, A New Flame and the new single Go Now. Czech pop group Monkey Business will open Sunday’s concert.
Czech President Václav Klaus has said that a two-day EU-Russia summit in Khabarovsk has strengthened trust between Russia and the European Union. Mr Klaus chaired the meeting on behalf of the Czech EU presidency. Afterwards, he said that the talks had increased mutual understanding on a number of issues. On the other hand, news agencies noted, the summit did not resolve disagreement in a number of areas including energy, as well as the Eastern Partnership project launched in Prague this month. The project aims to increase ties with six former Soviet republics; Russian President Dimitry Medvedev said on Thursday that Russia viewed it as an emerging security threat. Despite their differences, the EU is Russia's biggest trading partner, while the 27-member bloc currently imports more than a quarter of its gas from Russia.
The country’s caretaker government will assess an amendment aimed at revising the so-called muzzle law which bans the Czech media from revealing information such as records of police wiretappings or the identities of victims in criminal cases. The amendment was put forward by several MPs: the Green Party’s Kateřina Jacques, Social Democrat Frantíšek Bublan and Civil Democrat Frantíšek Laudát. The aim, the authors of the legislation said, is to make it possible to report information when it was clearly in the public’s interest. The muzzle law, which has been in effect since April 1, has come under wide criticism from both the media and media experts in the Czech Republic and abroad, who have charged that it restricts the freedom of the press.
Czech Airlines, slated for privatisation later this year, has announced a heavy first-quarter loss caused by a record decline in the number of passengers. The company posted 1.3 billion crowns (roughly 49.5 million euros) in pre-tax losses, as passenger numbers shrank by an annual 12 percent to 945,000 amidst the global economic crisis. The company’s president Radomír Lašák said on Thursday that the carrier had revised its financial plan for 2009 as well as next year. The Czech government is hoping to sell its 91.5-percent stake in ČSA by the end of September, and has short-listed Air France-KLM and a Czech grouping of Unimex Group and Travel Service as potential buyers.
A Czech student film, called Bába, has won at the Cannes Film Festival in the category Cinefondation - devoted to film schools and young filmmakers. The film was made by Zuzana Špidlová.and was chosen from a shortlist of 17 finalists, selected from among more than 1,400 films from around the world. The win includes a financial prize.
The Secretary General of the Council of Europe Terry Davis expressed outrage on Friday over a TV ad by the Czech neo-Nazi National Party, offering a “final solution to the Gypsy question”. Under the law on political parties, the ad was broadcast this week by public broadcaster Czech TV ahead of elections to the European Parliament. But the station’s director has said it will not air again. Czech TV also filed a lawsuit against the ultra-right party. Secretary General Davis said in a press release on Friday that he shared the concern of a large number of TV viewers in the Czech Republic. In his statement, he also said he believed that the use of the words ‘final solution’ transgressed the framework for freedom of speech. The expression was used by the Nazis in the extermination of millions of Jews, Romanies, handicapped and others during World War II.
In related news, the Czech president has made clear he sees no problems in Czech-Russian relations. He made the comment saying that a planned US radar base on Czech soil – a point of earlier discord - was not a current topic and had not been on the agenda in his meeting with Dimitry Medvedev. The two heads-of-state met for 30 minutes on Friday following the end of the EU-Russia summit, discussing steps in bilateral trade and investment. Russia strongly opposes a US radar base being stationed in the Czech Republic – part of plans for a missile defence system in central Europe that were strongly backed by former US president George W. Bush.
The Czech business daily E15 has reported that Česká pošta (Czech Post) is to become an official partner of the Czech Olympic team, contributing around six or seven million crowns per year. According to the daily, negotiations between Olympic Committee representatives and the Czech Post took almost five months. The negotiations were complicated by the fact that Česká pošta is state-owned, falling under different rules compared to firms in the private sector. A contract is expected to be signed by the end of the month.
A group of Czech artists staged a demonstration at Prague Castle on Thursday to protest against President Václav Klaus, accusing him of harming Czech interests. The protest was aimed in particular against President Klaus’ alleged pro-Russian orientation, his rejection of the Lisbon treaty and his stand on global warming. The event was attended by several dozen people.
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