Hundreds of anti-war activists gathered on Prague's Palach Square on Sunday to protest against the military campaign in Iraq. Organised by the International Peace Movement and the Initiative Against War organisation, the event resembled a happening rather than a demonstration. Despite the cold weather and occasional snow, participants created banners, ate, drank, and symbolically drowned a puppet representing Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda, who has been publicly supporting the war in Iraq, by letting it float on the Vltava river. Since December, some twenty demonstrations against the war in Iraq have been organised in towns and cities around the country.
Statistics suggest that Czech exports to the European Union, which make up seventy percent of the country's total, have increased significantly in the past few months. In January, a 4.5 % increase was recorded year on year to reach 145 billion Czech crowns, or some 5 billion US dollars. While exports have increased to Italy and Austria, they have decreased to Great Britain and the Netherlands. However, according to economist David Marek, there is not cause for optimism, as exports are expected to remain stagnant.
Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla is planning to send a letter to the United Nations to seek it's opinion on the deployment of a Czech field hospital to Iraq. Speaking in a TV discussion programme, former Foreign Minister and UN General Assembly Chairman Jan Kavan said Mr Spidla intends to get a UN standpoint on the issue before it is discussed in parliament. He added that he had been assured the Czech Republic would try to find a way of sending the hospital to the Middle East solely as part of a humanitarian aid programme and not in the Iraqi Freedom operation. Although it is yet unclear when the future of the Czech field hospital will be discussed in parliament, Prime Minister Spidla said on Saturday, that he was certain most lower house deputies would vote in favour of its deployment.
The deputy mayor of the northern city of Usti nad Labem has called onto the citizens of his city, as well as the Bohemian towns of Lovosice, Decin, Teplice, and Most to boycott the Czech private TV station Nova. Tomas Jelinek holds TV Nova responsible for a verdict of the international arbitration court, which ruled the Czech Republic should pay 10.5 billion Czech crowns (some 350 million US dollars) to a foreign company, for failing to protect its investment in the television station. Mr Jelinek made the public call on his web pages and some 200 posters that have been distributed around the towns in question.
Police say they have arrested a Slovak national on Saturday morning who is believed to be a powerful boss of the Slovak underworld. After having served part of an eight and a half year prison sentence in Slovakia, Mikulas Cernak was released on probation in November. The 36-year old former owner of a private security agency was found guilty of having blackmailed and demanded "protection fees" from entrepreneurs in central Slovakia. Czech police say they have arrested Mr Cernak after finding evidence linking him to Russian-speaking organised crime groups in the Czech Republic. The arrest was confirmed by Slovak Interior Minister Vladimir Palko, who hopes to have Mr Cernak extradited back to Slovakia soon, to face legal proceedings.
The Czech Defence Ministry is to forward a proposal to the government on Monday, to offer Turkey protective gear and devices worth three million Czech crowns. With the US and British led war on Iraq, Turkey's security has been under threat as the NATO partner shares its borders with the middle eastern state. According to Andrej Cirtka from the Czech defence ministry's press department, the protective material, including numerous smaller anti-chemical packages and protective coats, is to help the citizens of Turkey defend themselves, should Saddam Hussein's regime decide to use weapons of mass destruction. The Czech gesture is to be part of current NATO security measures.
Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla said on Saturday that he hoped to meet with Interior Minister Stanislav Gross and the head of the state prosecution service Marie Benesova within the next two weeks to discuss the re-organisation of part of the police force. Speaking on a Czech TV programme, Mr Spidla reacted to Mrs Benesova's recent criticism in the media of the current state of the Czech police. In mid-March, a new corruption and financial crime unit was created through the merging of two elite police units. However, the new office, which is to deal with serious cases of economic crime, corruption, money laundering and military offences, has suffered much criticism since its creation. According to Mrs Benesova, disorganisation and confusion has resulted in a significant number of experienced investigators leaving the Czech police.
Tens of anarchists and numerous young citizens of Caslav gathered at one of the Bohemian town's squares on Saturday to protest against the war in Iraq. Carrying banners with slogans such as "No War for Oil" and "No to War for Profit", the protesters marched to the town hall where they gave a brief speech that criticised the United States and its military action. The demonstration was monitored by the police. Before it began, the peace protesters clashed with a group of skinheads but no incident was reported.
Czech president Vaclav Klaus met with former president and 'Solidarity' leader Lech Walesa in Gdansk, Poland, on Friday, with Mr Walesa greeting Mr Klaus as one of the last "warriors" of post-Communist central Europe, Mr Klaus told journalists afterwards. The Czech president, is completing a two-day visit to Poland; on Thursday he met with current President Aleksander Kwasniewski and parliament leaders in Warsaw, discussing the current war on Iraq and upcoming referendums on membership to the European Union.
The Czech anti-chemical unit based in Kuwait as part of operation 'Enduring Freedom' will see a rotation of military personnel at the end of June at the latest, an army representative told journalists on Friday. The current contingent, which is 400 members strong, has a number of members who have been stationed in Kuwait since last September, some of whom had already been expected to return home. Deputy Defence Minister Jan Vana revealed on Friday that the manner of rotating personnel, however, would not be up to Czech officials alone, but also up to the US, aware the Czech contingent has a mandate to serve in the Gulf until the end of 2003. Besides being able to provide decontamination expertise, the Czech Republic has also indicated it could provide additional experts to help locate possible weapons of mass destruction.
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