The Czech embassy in Thailand has confirmed the arrest of two Czech citizens who, the Thai press reported, participated in the kidnapping of a Dutch national. The embassy has not released additional information, citing that contradictory information had been provided by local police. A local newspaper wrote that the kidnapping was organised by a 36-year-old Pole, who was aided by the two Czechs aged 36 and 37. The paper reportedly gave their names and published their photographs. According to the Thai police, the men kidnapped the Dutchman on April 12, took him to an unknown location and demanded a ransom of 90,000 euros. According to the press, the Czechs have admitted involvement and have cooperated with the police, allegedly showing them where the man was held.
The Prague Municipal court has sentenced a 52-year-old man, Petr Krstev, to eight years in prison for holding up a Prague bank last December. In the incident, the man took two women hostage at gun point (using a gas-powered pistol), and demanded three million crowns and an escape vehicle. He was brought down by members of the police’s rapid-response force, who had surrounded the building; no one was hurt in the incident. The defendant had said he was forced to take the drastic step at the mercy of blackmailers. The state prosecutor asked for the eight-year sentence, midway between the possible five-to-twelve; the man can still appeal.
The Czech deputy interior minister, Lenka Ptáčková Melicharová, has said that Canadian visas for Czech nationals could be lifted in several months. She made the comment on Friday after a meeting between EU interior ministers in Brussels, saying that if Canada did not resolve the visa issue - which has been heavily criticised by Prague - the Czech Republic could block the ratification of a trade agreement being negotiated between Canada and the European Union. Ms Ptáčková Melicharová stressed, however, that her comments were her personal opinion. Ottawa unilaterally reintroduced visas for Czechs last July, after almost two years of visa-free relations, opting for the move after receiving a disproportionately high number of applications from Czech asylum seekers – many from within the Roma community. Canada also took similar steps back in 1997. Under pressure from Prague and Brussels, Canada has reportedly begun implementing changes to its asylum system, but the process could reportedly take several years to complete.
The Czech hockey club Pardubice won the country’s Extraliga title on Thursday after beating Vítkovice 3:2 in overtime, sweeping their opponents 4:0 in the final best-of-seven series. In Thursday’s game, Pardubice were behind 2:1 just two minutes before the end of the match, but managed to equalize and score the winning goal in the first minute of overtime. The title, fifth for the east Bohemian club and first since 2005, is being lauded as a major achievement for 45-year-old goalkeeper Dominik Hašek, who, after a slow start in the beginning of the season, became a key factor in Pardubice’s success. He won his last Czech league title 21 years ago.
Former Czech president Václav Havel, a playwright by profession, will attend the US premiere of his play Leaving on May 26, the Czech news agency has reported, saying he will accompanied by his wife Dagmar, and his personal secretary. The play is to premiere in the Wilma Theatre in Philadelphia. The main role is to be performed by actor David Strathairn. According to ČTK, the theatre, which is managed by a Czech-born couple, is one of the more respected in the US. The play Leaving by Mr Havel focuses on the difficulty of a politician’s giving up power after many years in office. Later this year, a film version, shot in the Czech Republic and directed by Mr Havel, is expected to go into production.
A team of Czech military specialists is readying to depart on a mine-sweeping mission in the Middle Eastern country of Jordan. Nine people are to take part in the mission over the next three months - and possibly longer - clearing landmines in the Jordan River valley. They will be making use of new Czech technology, known as Božena 5, for which the specialists (who come from engineering battalions in Olomouc and Rakovník) trained for one year. It will be a first opportunity to test the remote-controlled equipment in real conditions. A Jordanian bomb disposal team will also be available to assist. Jordan has some 200,000 landmines over a 6,000 hectare area left from previous Arab-Israeli conflicts; it is there that the Czech team will focus its activities.
US President Barack Obama has sent a letter of thanks to Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer, for the Czech Republic’s having organised the US-Russia summit on April 8. At the summit, Mr Obama and his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev signed a new landmark treaty in which the US and Russia pledged to slash their nuclear arsenals. In the letter to Jan Fischer, Mr Obama indicated that the signing of the New Start treaty would be remembered in history books; he also stressed that the Czech Republic was a close ally and thanked the country again for its commitment in Afghanistan. Mr Obama spent two days in the Czech capital during the summit - a year after his first official visit. In April 2009, he gave a key speech outside Prague Castle, where he first outlined his administration’s commitment to reducing the nuclear threat.
After six years, the international film festival known as Fresh Film Fest (FFF) – focussing on debuts and student work – will be moving from Karlovy Vary in the west of the country to the Czech capital. One of the reasons behind the move was reportedly a drop in funding, namely a municipal subsidy paid by Karlovy Vary which was halved to 500,000 from a previous 1.1 million crowns. A festival representative also said on Friday that the famous spa town, which also hosts the Czech Republic’s most prestigious annual international festival, was also overly expensive for Fresh Film’s audience. The overall budget for Fresh Film is around ten million crowns; the festival, in its 7th inception, will take place in Prague in August.
Czech President Václav Klaus has confirmed on his personal website that he will take part in a celebration in Moscow on May 9 commemorating victory 65 years ago at the end of World War II. According to the website, Mr Klaus was invited to attend by his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev. May 9 is a Russian national holiday, called Victory Day, usually seeing a traditional military parade. According to Russian sources, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy have also received official invitations to attend.
The Czech Senate has called on the council for the country’s Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes to commission independent legal analysis regarding the institute’s director Jiří Pernes. The new head has been the subject of continued controversy after it emerged that he had withheld key information when applying for the post - the fact that under Communism he attended evening classes at the communist academy of Marxism and Leninism. He was also reportedly eyed as a potential collaborator by the Communist-era secret police, the StB. His naming has drawn protests both on the board, as well as among some Institute employees. The Senate, despite opposition by the leftist parties as well as the centrist Christian Democrats, wants the analysis to re-examine Mr Pernes’s suitability for the post.
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