Integrating Central Europe’s Roma minority into society needs international cooperation, Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer agreed with his Hungarian counterpart Gordon Bajnai on Monday. At a meeting in Budapest on Monday evening, however, the two men agreed that fighting anti-Roma racist attacks was mostly the duty of national governments. Speaking after the meeting, Mr Bajnai said that Romany integration was an important theme across the region, which needed to be addressed ‘urgently’. According to the Hungarian MTI Press Agency, the Hungarian prime minister has submitted a proposal to the Visegrad Four group (made up of Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia) calling for a joint strategy to be devised dealing with the issue. At the meeting on Monday, the Czech prime minister praised Hungary for having made a number of arrests in connection with a spate of racially-motivated Roma killings.
Amnesty International has called upon the Canadian government to lift visa restrictions for Czechs which it reintroduced in July, pointing to human rights violations in the Czech Republic. In a joint letter the Czech and Mexican branches of Amnesty International called on Ottawa to scrap tourist visas for their countries’ citizens, saying that human rights workers were ‘concerned’ by the approach the Canadian authorities had adopted. Speaking to journalists on Tuesday, the head of Czech Amnesty International, Dasa van der Horst, said that all countries had the right to monitor the entry of foreigners into their territory and that visas were a legitimate tool for this. She added that visas should not, however, be used to limit the possibility of refugees seeking protection abroad. Mrs van der Horst highlighted cases of human rights violations in the Czech Republic, referring to the increased activity of far-right extremists targeted mainly at the Czech Republic’s Roma minority. She said that in light of such problems, it was ‘important’ for Canada to continue to offer Czech Roma in particular refugee status.
Czech carmaker Škoda Auto released photos of its new Superb Combi hatchback on Tuesday, ahead of the car’s launch in Frankfurt next month. A spokesperson for Škoda said that the new model should go on sale before the end of the year. According to Škoda’s Evžen Krauskopf, the finishing touches were currently being made to machinery required to mass-produce the model, and production should get underway by this autumn. The price of the vehicle is yet to be decided. More details about the car will be revealed in Frankfurt on September 14. Škoda Auto has already brought one new car model onto the market this year; in July it launched its Škoda Yeti sports utility vehicle.
Finance Minister Eduard Janota has said that his proposals to lower next year’s budget deficit will be finished by Thursday, and that, upon their completion, Prime Minister Jan Fischer will meet the heads of this country’s two main political parties to talk them through. In an interview with Reuters on Tuesday, Mr Janota added that the meeting would show whether the heads of the two biggest Czech parties – the Social Democrats and the Civic Democrats – really were committed to lowering the budget deficit. Mr Janota has drafted a budget for 2010 with a record deficit of 230 billion crowns (nearly 13 billion USD), which amounts to nearly seven percent of GDP. The finance minister has also been working on proposals to amend the law which would bring the deficit down by 70 billion crowns (nearly 4 billion USD). Mr Janota has warned of dire consequences for the country if next year’s budget deficit is not reduced.
The Czech Republic will be temporarily unable to vaccinate its citizens against tetanus, the Health Ministry has announced, blaming a change in policy for the shortage in vaccinations. The few remaining tetanus jabs in this country expire at the end of August, and new ones are yet to be delivered, the newspaper Hospodářské noviny reported on Tuesday. In April, the Health Ministry unveiled plans to entrust a private firm with the import of tetanus vaccines, which was to take place as of July, but there have been complaints that the tender was launched too late. One of the firms which lost out on the contract has also disputed the verdict which has further delayed the new system’s implementation. Around 80,000 Czechs are inoculated against tetanus each month. To try and curb the problem, the Chief Hygiene Officer Michael Vít has made a special exception and is allowing tetanus shots without Czech labeling to be used by this country’s doctors.
Around 800 people gathered on Prague’s Palachovo náměstí on Tuesday to protest against proposed cuts in Czech science funding. The protestors organised the event in support of the Czech Academy of Sciences, which is set to have its budget halved gradually over the next three years. A group called ‘Věda žije!’ (Science Lives) organised the protest; according to news website Novinky.cz, three quarters of this organisation’s members are employees of the Academy of Sciences. At Tuesday’s protest, however, the majority of participants were reported to have been young people, invited to attend by the website Lide.cz.
Environment Minister Ladislav Miko has said that the number of bark beetles in the Šumava National Park is ‘under control’ and that declaring a state of emergency in the region would be ‘nonsensical’. Regional governor Jiří Zimola had said that there was an infestation of bark beetles in the national park, which, in his view, was caused by the decision to leave parts of the forest to its own natural development. But on Tuesday, the environment minister said that Mr Zimola’s rhetoric was simply to shock voters ahead of an election and that the regional governor did not present a real way of reducing beetle numbers. Mr Miko added that the bark beetle was a problem all over Europe and that the situation here was typical.
Four men who turned themselves in to the police on Monday, claiming to be behind an attack on Civic Democrat leader Mirek Topolánek, were released without charge several hours later. One of the men said afterwards that they had thrown stones at the former prime minister having been promised a financial reward. The incident happened in south Moravia on Friday, at a Civic Democrat election rally. On Monday, one of the men who claimed to have carried out the attack said that it may have been ordered by someone from within Mirek Topolánek’s team. This suggestion was dismissed by the Civic Democrats, with spokesperson Martin Kupka calling such claims ‘nonsense’. Mr Topolánek was seen to be bleeding after the attack, but reports say he was only lightly injured.
Confidence in the Czech economy fell slightly in August, the Czech Statistical Office said on Tuesday. Overall confidence was down by 0.8 points on July’s figures, statisticians said. Consumer confidence, however, was up by 0.7 points. The fall was attributed mainly to a drop in business confidence of 1.2 points. In comparison with the same time last year, overall confidence is down by a massive 22.8 points. According to the Statistical Office, the majority of those polled said they expected a slight economic upturn in the coming twelve months, but the number of respondents expecting a rise in unemployment also rose in August’s poll.
The weekly Respekt claims that the recent expulsion of two Russian diplomats from Prague was allegedly the culmination of a several months’ long effort to break up Russia’s highly-organized network of agents operating in NATO member states. According to Respekt, which has not revealed its sources, NATO’s “defense operation” was launched last September following the arrest of Estonian officer Herman Simm on suspicion of espionage for Russia. During questioning Simm allegedly provided information about an extensive network of Russian spies operating in various NATO member states. A number of Russian agents were expelled from Britain and Poland in 2008.
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