President Vaclav Klaus has officially announced that a referendum on whether the Czech Republic should join the European Union will be held on Friday June 13 and Saturday June 14. It will be the first referendum in the country's history and will be preceded by a large advertising campaign in support of membership. If the referendum is passed the Czech Republic is expected to join the EU on May 1, 2004.
The Czech foreign minister, Cyril Svoboda, has discussed the post-war situation in Iraq and bilateral relations with his Russian counterpart, Igor Ivanov, in Moscow. Mr Svoboda said the Russians had been particularly interested in the Czech decision to send a military field hospital to Iraq. He also said Czech President Vaclav Klaus would be attending celebrations to mark the 300th anniversary of the foundation of St Petersburg in May, when he will also hold talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
A Czech military field hospital in the southern Iraqi city of Basra has treated its first patients. Relatively few patients visited the hospital however, as Friday is a day of prayer for Muslims. The hospital is being guarded by British forces in control of Basra. Deputy Defence Minister Jaroslav Skopek said on Friday that the hospital would be working at full capacity by May 6.
President Klaus is not planning to mark his recent appointment by issuing an amnesty, his spokesman said on Friday, adding that while Mr Klaus regarded amnesties as important it would not be appropriate to issue one now. The president said before he was elected that he would not use his powers of amnesty or pardon to interfere in the legal system and frequently criticised his predecessor Vaclav Havel for doing so.
The Czech Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla and his Danish counterpart Anders Fogh Rasmussen say they oppose a plan to create the post of President of the European Union. Mr Rasmussen, visiting Prague, said he was sceptical towards the idea, proposed by the chairman of the EU Convention on the future of Europe, Valery Giscard D'Estaing. The Danish prime minister said a full-time EU president - who would represent the EU internationally and chair meetings of the EU Council of Ministers - would lead to big member states having greater power over smaller ones. Prime Minister Spidla said Czech and Danish attitudes to the future of the EU were extremely close.
An assistant to Mr Havel said on Thursday that the former president had opened his new office in Prague's Vorsilska street. Mr Havel's office - where he will concentrate on reviving his writing career - is seated on the ground floor of a house belonging to Karel Schwarzenberg, his former chancellor. Mr Havel will have to finance the running of the office by himself until parliament passes a bill defining state pensions for ex- presidents.
Meanwhile a dispute over the EU between Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda and President Vaclav Klaus continued on Thursday, with Mr Svoboda again distancing himself from recent remarks made by the president. President Klaus said during last week's EU signing ceremony in Athens that his country would lose some of its sovereignty when it joins the Union, comments which were harshly criticised by Mr Svoboda. The Foreign Minister said in parliament on Thursday that equating EU membership with loss of sovereignty was the same as encouraging people not to vote in the forthcoming EU referendum. President Klaus has often been criticised for his negative comments about the European Union, which his country will join in May 2004.
President Vaclav Klaus who is on a one day visit to neighbouring Austria
has said the Czech Republic is willing to talk but not to negotiate about
the issue of the Sudeten Germans' expulsion after the Second World War. Mr
Klaus added that for his part, he said all in a statement to mark the
March anniversary of the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia. At a joint
press conference with Mr Klaus, the Austrian President Thomas Klestil said
Austria felt the Sudeten German question had not yet been solved "in
a satisfactory way". In recent years Austria has been pressing for a
"gesture" by Prague over the Sudeten Germans issue. The Austrian
right-wing Freedom Party also demanded formal abolition of the post-war
Benes Decrees legitimising the expulsion, threatening that the Czechs
would otherwise be barred from EU membership.
Since becoming President in succession to Vaclav Havel in early March, Mr Klaus has toured the Czech Republic's neighbouring countries to stress the importance of good neighbourly relations. Austria is his fourth stop after visits to Slovakia, Poland and Germany.
An explosive device was discovered and defused near where Czech and Slovak soldiers are stationed at Camp Doha in Kuwait, Czech newspapers reported on Wednesday. The 30-centimetre long tube was discovered on Monday. A robot was employed to recover the device. Colonel Dusan Lupuljev, who commands the 400-member unit of nuclear-biochemical weapons experts, said the device may have been designed for demolition tasks.
A part of the Czech military field hospital, which is being set up in the Iraqi city of Basra, is due to start work on Friday morning, the Czech ambassador to Kuwait Jana Hybaskova told reporters. A suitable location for the field hospital has been found and construction will start as soon as the site is cleared up. The field hospital, which will have two operating theatres and a capacity of 50 beds, should start serving the civilian population in and around Basra at the beginning of May. It has been sent to Iraq on a humanitarian mission and is not part of the US-led military operation underway in the country.
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