The French prime minister Francois Fillon has criticized the Czech EU presidency and linked Prague’s governance of the bloc to the low turnout at European elections across the continent this weekend. Addressing the French Parliament, Mr Fillon said that, under the Czech presidency, the European Union had returned to its classic approach of slowly finding the least bad consensus and that this Europe of ‘small steps and compromises’ was ‘wholly unacceptable’. In his damning speech, Mr Fillon said that European citizens did not agree with this approach and had voiced their protest by failing to turn out at this weekend’s elections to the European Parliament. Former Czech Prime Minister and former head of the Czech EU presidency Mirek Topolánek brushed aside Mr Fillon’s criticism on Wednesday. Speaking to Czech paper Pravo, he dismissed Mr Fillon’s criticisms as small-minded.
One of Czech President Václav Klaus’s closest aids, Petr Hájek, has said that he believes the September 11 attacks on New York’s World Trade Center in 2001 may have been organised by the US secret services, reports Mladá fronta Dnes on Wednesday. Mr Hájek made the statements in his new book ‘Smrt ve středu’. President Klaus’s advisor added that he believed Osama bin Laden was nothing more than a media fiction. When questioned about Mr Hájek’s statements, Václav Klaus said he believed this new book was ‘revelatory and immensely useful’ in certain respects. Petr Hájek has recently courted controversy by likening Darwin’s theory of evolution to Marxism and casting doubt on the harmful effects of smoking.
The Social Democrats would win a general election if it were held right now, suggests a poll conducted by the Median agency and released on Wednesday. Almost 36 percent of respondents said that they would vote for Jiří Paroubek’s Social Democrats, while the Civic Democrats would garner 28 percent of the vote. The Social Democrats finished second in this weekend’s elections to the European Parliament behind former Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek’s Civic Democrats. The poll found that the Communist Party and the Christian Democrats would also cross the five-percent threshold necessary to gain parliamentary representation.
Wednesday marked the 67th anniversary of the razing of the Czech town of Lidice. On June 9, 1942, the Nazis ordered the liquidation of the Central Bohemian town following an assassination attempt upon Reichsprotektor Reinhard Heydrich. On June 10, Nazi soldiers murdered 173 of the town’s men, while the women and children were rounded up and sent to concentration camps, where many died. A total of 340 of Lidice’s inhabitants died as a result of the Nazi decree. The village itself was doused in petrol and burnt to the ground. On Wednesday, a commemorative service took place in Lidice to mark the anniversary.
Ten people were charged following a series of raids on Tuesday evening targeting far-right extremists in the Czech Republic. Flats and cars were searched and goods were confiscated from one Prague shop as part of the biggest anti-extremist police operation this country has ever seen. According to the head of the Czech Police’s Organised Crime Unit, Pavel Hanták, the raids were the culmination of months of investigation into far-right groups in the Czech Republic. If found guilty of ‘promoting a movement surpressing freedom and human rights’, the ten people charged could face up to eight years in prison, Mr Hanták added. In related news, all members of the government and the heads of both the Czech lower house and Senate signed a statement on Tuesday pledging to take a common stand against growing extremism and racism in the Czech Republic.
The Czech Health Ministry confirmed the nation’s third and fourth cases of swine flu on Wednesday. The two Czechs diagnosed with the virus had recently flown in from the United States. The woman, who returned on Friday, and the man, who arrived on Monday, remained at home and now have practically no problems, said ministry spokesperson Vlastimil Sršeň. The Czech Republic reported its first case of swine flu on May 25, with the second discovered 10 days later. A total of 193 Czechs have been tested for swine flu to date. The World Health Organisation said on Tuesday that the world was on the verge of an official swine flu pandemic as over 26,000 infections including 140 deaths had been reported in 73 countries.
The Czech lower house voted on whether to ban smoking in restaurants on Wednesday, and decided that it should be left up to restaurants themselves to decide whether smoking was, or was not permitted on their premises. This was the least strict of the three proposals put forward. If approved by the Senate and signed into law by Czech President Václav Klaus, the new legislation will come into effect in July 2010. Smoking is banned in public buildings, trains, in stations and at bus stops in the Czech Republic though there is no smoking ban in the country’s bars and restaurants.
Former Finance Minister and erstwhile head of the Christian Democrats Miroslav Kalousek confirmed on Wednesday that he is founding a new party called TOP 09 and that the party would be officially launched at a news conference on Thursday. Speaking on Wednesday, Mr Kalousek said that he had gained the several thousand signatures necessary to register the new party with the Czech Interior Ministry, and that he would do so officially later this week. Mr Kalousek and four other MPs this week said that they were leaving the Christian Democratic Party, reducing that party’s tally of MPs from 13 to eight.
A part of the EU parliamentary delegation to the Middle East, led by the bloc’s Czech presidency, reportedly met leaders of the Islamist movement Hamas during a trip to Gaza on Tuesday, Czech Television has reported. The head of the delegation, Czech MP Miloslav Vlček, originally said that no such meeting was planned. He subsequently condemned the meeting and disassociated himself from it. Hamas is currently on an EU list of terrorist organizations. According to Czech Television, four members of the EU delegation, including deputy EP chairwoman Luisa Morgantini met representatives of Hamas ‘unofficially’ while Mr Vlček was touring the Islamic University in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday. The delegation moves on to Israel on Wednesday.
Some 689 Czechs were either in prison or custody abroad in December 2008, the Foreign Ministry announced on Wednesday. Seventy-five of those detained were being held on suspicion of drug-related crimes, the ministry said. In 2007, the ministry registered over 1,000 Czechs in foreign prisons. The country with the highest number of Czechs in jail is neighbouring Austria, where 156 Czechs are currently behind bars, followed by Spain where there are at the moment 91 Czech prisoners. Some 75 Czechs are currently in an American jail, the ministry said. According to a spokesperson, the number of Czechs in jail abroad could in fact be many times higher, as these were only the cases that the Czech Republic’s consulates around the world were aware of.