The Czech government has proposed June 15th and 16th , 2003, as the dates for a referendum that will decide the Czech Republic's accession to the European Union; the final decision on the day of voting now lies with President Vaclav Havel. The Czechs are one of ten candidate nations in final talks to join the EU in the first half of 2004. Entering the 15-nation bloc has been a top priority for many post-Communist countries like the Czech Republic; however, difficult negotiations concerning the conditions of entry, especially limitations of labour movement and farm subsidies, have lowered EU support among many citizens. The region's politicians have agreed to hold referenda in succession beginning with Hungary, where support is highest, in the hope that a positive results will influence anti-EU voters in other candidate countries, to reconsider their choice.
The Chamber of Deputies defence committee has recommended that the lower house pass a government-sponsored bill allowing the U.S. Air Force to help guard Czech airspace during the NATO summit in Prague this November 21-22. Of all the parties only the Communists did not support the bill at the committee level. The Lower House is now set to debate the bill either this Thursday or Friday. In related news Defence Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik told the defence committee Wednesday that the USA would deploy up to fifteen fighter jets as part of the operation to protect Czech airspace, with F- 15 and F-16s taking off from bases in the Czech Republic, Britain, Germany and Italy. A total of 250 U.S. soldiers will serve in the operation and who will legally not be accountable for damages in the event of an accident or attack. Any strike would first have to be approved by the Czech defence minister or a chosen deputy.
Black-clad demonstrators battled Czech police with rocks and bottles on Wednesday as part of a staged riot held near the town of Milovice, some fifty kilometers from Prague. The mock riot was staged to help Czech forces gear up for the NATO summit to be held in Prague later this month, the Czech Republic's largest security operation ever. An estimated 12,000 police and soldiers are preparing for the arrival of more than 40 leaders for the key meeting in the third week of November. Recalling the violent clashes that erupted in the czech capital two years ago at the meeting of the International Monetary Fund, Czech police chief Jiri Kolar said on Wednesday that police would be more pro-active this time around if anti-globalisation protesters tried to force their way into Prague's Congress Centre, the key locoation for summit talks.
The Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda has indicated that the Czech government may refuse Belarussian President Alexandr Lukashenko entry to the Czech Republic; the leader of the former-Soviet country applied for a visa in order to be able to attend November's NATO summit in Prague. In an interview with Czech Radio on Wednesday Foreign Minister Svoboda admitted that the government was hesitant over issuing an entry visa to Mr Lukashenko, on the grounds that his regime suppressed human rights; he added that cabinet ministers were also trying to gather information on the case of Belarussian opposition leader Anatoly Lebedko, before reaching a decision - the opposition leader was detained in Minsk on Tuesday on possible charges of treason.
The Czech government is to decide whether or not the controversial President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko should be granted a visa to the Czech Republic. President Lukashenko, whose country has voiced strong opposition to NATO expansion, has applied for a visa in view of attending the November NATO summit in Prague. According to unofficial sources at NATO headquarters President Lukashenko has not been invited to the summit. Belarus, criticized by the West over its record on human rights and freedom of speech, has been at odds with several international institutions.
The Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament has approved a resolution on the controversial Benes decrees, stating that they do not present a hurdle to the Czech Republic's accession to the EU. The verdict is based on the outcome of a legal expertise commissioned by the European Parliament which concluded that the decrees are not in violation of EU law. The Benes decrees, which sanctioned the expulsion of 2.5 million ethnic Germans from Czechoslovakia after WWII, have been criticized by some groups in Austria and Germany who asked the Czech Republic to abolish the decrees before joining the European Union.
The Czech border authorities have warned visitors to the Czech Republic that after November 15th border security will be very tight in connection with the upcoming NATO summit. People entering the country by car can expect a thorough check up of their documents, luggage and vehicle and, consequently a much longer wait at the border. During the summit itself, on November 21st and 22nd, some parts of Prague will be closed off to the public and there may be changes in public transport.
The Czech police announced on Monday, they had charged nine men last week for supporting and propagating movements that suppress man's basic rights and freedoms. Apart from publicly giving the Nazi salute, wearing racist and neo-Nazi symbols and spreading racist material, they are also suspected of having organised four concerts featuring racist bands. According to Patrik Frk from the Czech police, the men between the ages of 19 and 25 were uncovered as part of operation Patriot - a wide police campaign against extremism that was launched in August 2001. Mr Frk added that the Central Bohemian police spent over a year verifying evidence against the men. When the police raided suspects' homes in May this year, hundreds of compact discs, cassettes, t-shirts and other materials that all propagate racism were found. The suspects have not been detained by the police but may face between three to eight years in prison if found guilty of the charges.
After declaring a state of legislative emergency on Monday, Lower House Speaker Lubomir Zaoralek announced that discussion on a bill to allow the U.S. Air Force help guard Czech airspace during the upcoming NATO summit in Prague would be accelerated. The foreign, defence and security committees of the lower house have until 1800hrs on Wednesday to submit any proposed changes to the bill in order to allow for it to be discussed during the lower house's session on Thursday. The bill will be debated in a shortened format. Instead of going through the regular three readings, it will be voted on in one day. The government approved the bill at its meeting on Sunday. After the lower house, it will be discussed by the Senate.
Another building was closed down in Prague's Karlin district on Monday after security checks proved it no longer safe. This brings the total number of flood-damaged buildings in the district to forty-three. In Prague, Karlin was most hit by the devastating floods in August. Out of its 25,000 inhabitants, only some 30% have been allowed to return to their homes. The rest are either staying with friends and relatives or have been given alternate provisional housing.
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