The Senate’s foreign affairs committee on Thursday expressed support for the government’s proposal to increase the 500 strong Czech presence in Afghanistan by 100 men. The Czech foreign and defense ministries have argued that a stronger presence is essential for the Czech Republic to be able to fulfill its tasks in assisting the war-torn country’s reconstruction over the next three years. The Czech mission will require around 100 million crowns a year. The Czechs are stationed in the southern province of Logar where they are assisting in building schools, waterworks and hospitals as well as training Iraqi police.
A concert in aid of Haiti was held on Prague’s Old Town Square on Thursday afternoon. The event was organized by Prague City Hall in cooperation with the country’s public broadcasters Czech Television and Czech Radio. The concert was broadcast live and listeners were asked to send financial donations via their mobile phones. The Czech government recently earmarked 20 million crowns in aid of earthquake victims, Prague City Hall has set aside 12 million and NGOs have raised 36 million crowns.
Czech jockey Josef Váňa has been presented with the Czech Olympic Committee’s Jiří Guth-Jarkovský prize for the best sport achievement of the year. A legend of Czech horse-racing, Mr. Váňa won the Grand Pardubice steeplechase for the sixth time last October at the age of 56. The country’s most popular jockey was recently awarded a high state distinction by President Vaclav Klaus for his life-long contribution to horse racing. Mr. Váňa said he hoped the awards would help promote the sport he had dedicated his life to.
Prague’s Troja zoo has announced the expected birth of another baby gorilla. The mother is 16-year-old Kidzivu who has already bred twice in captivity, in 2004 and 2007. She is expecting her third offspring in March. Kidzivu came to Prague from Sydney and has proved crucial to the zoo’s gorilla breeding programme.
At a press conference in Prague on Thursday, Czech President Vaclav Klaus and visiting Polish President Lech Kaczynsky warned against a greater centralization of power in the European Union and argued that the Lisbon Treaty should not turn it into a federation ruled by a few heavyweights. The two leaders, who share Eurosceptic views, criticized the EU for allegedly being slow and inefficient in dealing with the humanitarian crisis in Haiti, which they blamed on the new working structure of the EU, where it was still not clear who was responsible for what. Both expressed themselves in favour of further enlargement saying the EU should not become a closed club.
A nine-year-old boy and a toddler who suffered serious head injuries from falling snow and ice in the past few days remain in critical condition at Prague’s Tomayerova teaching hospital. Both are in an induced coma and doctors are planning to perform surgery on the older child on Sunday. Melting snow falling from rooftops and icy roads have resulted in numerous injuries in the past few days. On Thursday Prague emergency crews reported over 40 calls to people who had fallen on icy pavements.
The results of a Eurobarometer poll published on Thursday suggest that Czechs trust EU institutions more than they trust their own government. This despite the fact that few respondents had a clear idea about how the EU functions. The poll revealed that 60 percent of Czechs trust the European Parliament and the European Commission while the Czech government got a 37 percent trust rating and the Czech Parliament a mere 15 percent. Sixty-three percent of Czechs think EU membership has benefited their country. Experts say the high level of trust in EU institutions stems from the fact that many Czechs are hoping that strict EU norms will improve the Czech environment.
The Czech crystal glass producer Crystalex is back in business, after a year long fall-out resulting from the bankruptcy of the Bohemia Crystalex Trading Group. Crystalex was purchased by CBC invest –now Crystalex CZ – for over 300 million crowns and the company’s new director Miroslav Šebesta says many of the company’s traditional clients have placed new orders for 2010. Mr. Šebesta says the company’s future will depend on its ability to attract new clients amidst growing competition on the crystal glass market.
The Czech Foreign Ministry has rejected criticism regarding the process of issuing Czech visas to Russian nationals. The statement comes in response to a complaint from the Czech Association of Travel Agencies according to which the process of issuing visas to Russian applicants had got slower and more complicated after the foreign ministry had employed a private firm to do the job. Foreign Minister Jan Kohout said on Thursday that the procedure was fully in line with accepted standards elsewhere in the EU and that the vast majority of applicants received a visa within five days. He said that under a Czech-Russian agreement Russian applicants should receive a visa within ten days.
The head of the Bohemian and Moravian Confederation of Trades Unions, Milan Štěch, has announced his intention to step down after eight years in the post. The 56-year old, who is also a deputy speaker of the upper house, the Senate, for the Social Democrats, said he would continue until the confederation congress in April. He said he had no desire to retire completely from public life. The confederation is the biggest grouping of trades unions in the country.