President Vaclav Klaus and Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda remain at odds following a dispute last week in which Mr Svoboda criticised the president for recent remarks on the European Union. Mr Klaus found Mr Svoboda's criticism, which came after the signing of the EU accession treaty in Athens, personally insulting, and had asked the foreign minister to Prague Castle to explain. But, after their meeting Tuesday Mr Svoboda repeated he was standing by last week's comments, in which he called the president's knowledge of the European Union 'superficial'. While saying the meeting with the president was a 'good step', Tuesday, Mr Svoboda stressed that the country's foreign policy fell within the competency of the government. At the same time Mr Klaus' spokesman, Tomas Klvana, reminded journalists that it was the Czech president's right to comment on foreign affairs matters. After the accession treaty signing last week Mr Klaus warned that EU membership would cost the Czech Republic a measure of its sovereignty, provoking the foreign minister's criticism.
Two year-old Hasan Khalaf, the son of Iraqi parents whose plight recently evoked a wave of sympathy in the Czech Republic, has been admitted to hospital for treatment of cerebral palsy. The boy's illness was Mrs Khalaf's main reason for coming to the country - the family arrived last Saturday at Prague airport, with representatives of a Paediatric Hospital Ward on hand to arrange treatment for the two year old. The treatment of the child, and acceptance of the Khalaf family in the Czech Republic, caps a dramatic turn in events: Mrs Khalaf was originally refused entry - allegedly for 'security reasons', despite the fact that she had a valid visa. The original refusal sparked angry protests from human rights activists, provoking widespread criticism of the foreign police.
Planeloads of medical equipment and supplies are being flown to Kuwait City in preparation of the setting up of a Czech field hospital in Basra, southern Iraq. The defense ministry's press department said the operation was running smoothly and the equipment and medical supplies would be stored in Kuwait City until a suitable site for the field hospital had been found in Basra. Most of the hospital staff have already arrived in Kuwait. The Czech field hospital, which will have two operating theatres and a capacity of 50 beds, should serve the civilian population in and around Basra. It has been sent to Iraq on a humanitarian mission and is not part of the military operation underway in the country.
The police is searching for a group of skinheads who smashed up a pub and beat up several people before the start of a planned rock concert in the Moravian town of Zlin on Saturday night. Eye witnesses said a group of eight skinheads burst into the club and attacked pub visitors at random, using truncheons and even pub chairs. "It was a demonstration of force and there was nothing we could do" one of the musicians told the CTK press agency. Although the pub owner alerted the police the skinheads allegedly jumped into their cars and drove off before their arrival. One person was taken to hospital with serious back injuries, the others escaped with cuts and bruises. The police has appealed for assistance in catching the culprits, asking eyewitnesses to disclose any information that might help to trace them.
Meanwhile, a row has broken out between President Klaus and Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda in the wake of the signing of the EU accession treaty in Athens on Wednesday. President Klaus says he feels insulted by remarks that the Foreign Minister made when speaking to journalists in the wake of the ceremony. The Foreign Minister allegedly said that President Klaus' knowledge of the workings of the European Union was "superficial and inadequate". The President's spokesman Tomas Klavana said the remarks were "uncalled for, incorrect and misleading". The President has reportedly demanded an explanation in person but according to the Foreign Minister's spokesman Mr. Svoboda has no intention of going to Prague Castle "to be mentored by the head of state".
President Vaclav Klaus will call a referendum on the country's EU entry next week. Parliament has recommended a June 13th and 14th term and a spokesman for the President's office said on Friday that President Klaus would officially announce the referendum for those dates on April 24th. Opinion polls suggest that the Czech Republic will approve EU membership by a large margin.
Members of the 7th Czech military field hospital said good-bye to their
colleagues at a ceremony in Hradec Kralove on Thursday before leaving
for their mission in Basra, southern Iraq. The first 40 members of the
unit left on Thursday afternoon for Kuwait from where they will travel
to Iraq. Further personnel will leave on Friday. The field hospital has
two operating theatres, a quarantine section, a dentist's office with
an X-ray machine and a pharmacy. The unit has about 270 members. The
United States ambassador to Prague Craig Stapleton praised the Czech
government for deciding to send the unit to Iraq. He said that although
Iraq has been liberated, there is still work to be done.
On Tuesday, parliament approved Prime Minister Vladmir Spidla's plan to dispatch the medical unit to provide humanitarian support. The United States is helping to finance the operation. Mr Spidla has been emphasising the humanitarian focus of the hospital and the 400-member Czech army unit stationed in Kuwait that can detect against nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. Last year the Czech Republic stationed an army hospital in Afghanistan following a US-led war there. Before its mission ended in January the 6th field hospital treated nearly 14,000 Afghans.
The Czech Republic's top officials are to celebrate Wednesday's signing of the EU accession treaty on Friday morning at the government headquarters in Prague. The ceremony will be attended by President Vaclav Klaus, Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla and Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda who signed the treaty in Athens. Former President Vaclav Havel, former Prime Minister Milos Zeman and former Foreign Minister and current President of the United Nations General Assembly Jan Kavan have also been invited to Friday's ceremony.
Prime Minister Spidla spoke of the historic nature of the occasion. The treaty had closed a chapter of his country's past, he said, a chapter which was too often out of Czech hands, referring to the Nazi and Soviet occupations. President Klaus struck a more pragmatic tone, saying the treaty was not the closing of a chapter, but the beginning of a new era in which Czechs would have to work hard at home and defend their position inside the EU. In an interview published on Wednesday with the German weekly Die Zeit, President Klaus said EU accession was a marriage based on reason rather than love.
The Czech Defence Ministry is considering buying used supersonic fighter planes to limit the costs of replacing its Soviet-era MiG jets next year, with five offers now on the table. The government was forced to drop plans to buy 24 new Anglo-Swedish Gripen jets after last year's catastrophic floods. Deputy Defence Minister Jan Vana told Reuters there were currently five offers to sell the country supersonic jets, but that a British offer was in what he called "a more advanced stage". NATO ally Britain has offered the Czech Republic 14 older F-3 Tornado jets, which should be replaced in the British armed forces in the next few years.
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