The Czech government's pro-EU campaign is to be launched on May 1st, some six weeks before Czechs are due to vote on EU membership in a national referendum. The campaign, for which the government earmarked 200 million crowns, includes TV spots, discussion programmes and panel debates, billboards and leaflets. The government is already operating a toll free phone line on EU matters and within the next few weeks every Czech household should get materials outlining the main points of the Czech Republic's association agreement with the EU.
The Czech government has earmarked 40 million Czech crowns out of the state budget to be used for humanitarian aid to Iraq and to cover the expenses of a group of twenty Czech experts who are to assist with the reconstruction of the country. The ministries of foreign affairs, defence and trade have fourteen days to draw up a joint plan on the country's political and economic contribution to Iraq's reconstruction. The government has yet to decide how much money will be allocated to Czech firms directly involved in Iraq's reconstruction. A vote is expected within 14 days.
French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, who is currently on an official trip to Prague, met with senior Czech politicians on Monday to lobby for a stronger Europe. Speaking in the Senate, Mr Villepin said that Europe can not depend on one power to solve the problems of the world. It is therefore necessary to actively and ambitiously focus on the future of the EU as Europe needs to be strong and speak with one voice, in order to be comparable to the United States. Referring to a letter signed in January by eight senior European politicians, including former Czech President Vaclav Havel, backing the US pro-war stance on Iraq, Mr Villepin said such examples of disagreement in Europe should serve as a lesson to the EU to take the necessary steps to avoid division in the future.
British Defence Minister Geoff Hoon said on Monday that Britain is ready and willing to help the Czech Republic attain supersonic fighter jets to replace its ageing fleet of MiG 21s. With the MiG 21s to be replaced by 2005 at the latest, the Czech government is soon to decide what jets will be used to protect the country's airspace in the future. The Czech Republic is closely considering an offer of 14 older F-3 Tornado jets, which are to be replaced in the British armed forces in the next few years. In an interview with the CTK news agency, Mr Hoon said he would discuss the issue with his Czech counterpart during his official trip to Prague on Wednesday. He is also expected to meet with Czech President Vaclav Klaus, Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla, and Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda.
Czech border police say this week-end saw a record number of Chechen refugees seek asylum in the Czech Republic. Dissatisfied with the living conditions in Polish refugee camps, some one hundred Chechens crossed the border into the country, bringing the total number of Chechen asylum applicants to six hundred since mid-April. A spokesperson for the North Moravian Foreign and Border Police said on Monday that the Czech authorities dealing with asylum applications are overwhelmed by the influx of Chechen refugees. With camps overcrowded, several cultural institutions serve as shelters for asylum seekers, some of whom even sleep in the kitchen areas.
A delegation of Czech Senators from the upper house's European Integration Committee have left for London for a three day visit to discuss the Union's future after expansion. The Senators will be meeting with senior British government officials as well as representatives of the European Parliament in the UK. The Czech Republic, along with nine other countries, is expected to join the EU in 2004.
Some one hundred, mainly elderly, clients of the troubled Czech bank Union Banka gathered on Prague's Lesser Town Square on Monday to demand their money be released from their accounts. The protesters, some of whom have their life savings in the collapsed bank, signed a petition calling for a detailed investigation, accused the bank of asset stripping and demanded compensation of up to 4 million Czech crowns. While whistling and chanting slogans such as "defend our rights" the protesters made their way to parliament, hoping to forward their petition to lower house deputies. However, instead of support from MPs, they received a fine by the police for failing to have permission to stage their protest away from the square.
The collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime has done little to change opposition among the Czech public to the war, according to a poll released on Friday by the CVVM polling agency. The latest poll, conducted in mid-April, suggests 70 percent of Czechs oppose the US-led war. A poll conducted in early March just before the war began suggested 72 percent of Czechs were against it. Of the 24 percent who said they were for the war in the latest poll, one third said it was necessary to remove Saddam Hussein while almost a quarter said it was a justifiable means of fighting terrorism.
The Czech ambassador to Kuwait, Jana Hybaskova, is to represent the Czech Republic at a conference in Baghdad on the establishment of an interim government in Iraq. Representatives of the United States, Great Britain, Spain, Australia and Poland are also due to attend, though Ms Hybaskova said it was not yet clear whether the conference would begin on Sunday evening or Monday. Foreign Ministry spokesman Vit Kolar said on Saturday the Czechs had been invited due to their experience in transformation from a totalitarian state to a democracy.
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.
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