EU commissioner for expansion Gunter Verheugen on Thursday began his two day visit to the Czech Republic by sampling a cold beer in the west Bohemian city of Pilsen, taking a tram ride and going on a walkabout. I was looking forward to visiting the city whose beer has made this country famous around the world, Mr. Verheugen told the crowd of reporters dogging his footsteps. On Thursday evening the EU commissioner is to meet with President Vaclav Klaus at Prague Castle.
The pro-EU Yes for Europe group is considering whether to go ahead with a planned concert in the centre of Prague, in the wake of a decision by the city council banning the group from holding the event in the Old Town Square. The council has told the group they can hold the concert - to be opened by former President Vaclav Havel - on Wenceslas Square instead, but the group say this may not be possible. The council - which is controlled by the opposition Civic Democrats - banned the concert for noise reasons. The Civic Democrats have held several rock concerts in the Old Town Square in recent years.
Around 200 farmers have demonstrated outside the government offices in Prague in support of a proposal put forward by Agriculture Minister Jaroslav Palas. The proposal involves asking for more direct payments from the European Union, and a temporary grant of around 100 million dollars to resolve problems in the agriculture sector.
Czech President Vaclav Klaus has accepted Defence Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik's offer to resign: the two men met for an hour at Prague Castle on Tuesday to discuss the future of the Czech military, during which Mr Klaus thanked the outgoing minister for his services. Last week Mr Tvrdik tendered his resignation because he disagreed with planned government cuts to the Defence Ministry budget. He said that implementing long planned reforms in the armed forces would be impossible under such conditions. Meanwhile on Tuesday, the head of the president's office Jiri Weigl stated the president had displayed personal regret over the departure of the minister, considering him the most distinguished personality to have headed the Defence Ministry.
The opposition Civic Democrats have said that if Czechs vote to join the European Union in a forthcoming referendum, it should be followed by a second referendum on the planned new EU constitution. Deputy leader Jan Zahradil said on Monday the Civic Democrats would recommend voting against the EU constitution in a referendum, if they considered it excessively federalist. The EU's first constitution is currently being debated by the European Convention. The Czech Republic will join the union next May if voters say "yes" on June 13 and 14.
Former top communist Milos Jakes collapsed in a Prague court on Monday while giving evidence at the trial of another party official. Mr Jakes, secretary-general of the Communist Party from 1985 to 1989, was testifying in the case of Karel Hoffman, accused of treason for his part in the silencing of radio broadcasts during the 1968 Soviet-led invasion. Mr Hoffman's trial follows the acquittal last September of Mr Jakes and former prime minister Jozef Lenart on charges related to the 1968 invasion.
Three Czech environmental organisations have filed a complaint against a planned motorway with the European Commission. The groups say the D8 motorway could cause serious damage to the environment in the Krusne hory mountains in north Bohemia. For their part, police in the region have called for the motorway to be built as soon as possible in order to deal with severe traffic delays.
The number of prisoners in the Czech Republic has decreased over the past three years. While in the year 2000, the Czech Republic had 24000 prisoners, this year it is 7000 less. The change is due to an amendment to the penal code in 2002 which introduced various alternative punishments. Czech prisons have been suffering from overcrowding for years. While the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture recommends 6 square metres of floor space for every prisoner, in the Czech Republic, it was just over half the area before 2002.
Czech President Vaclav Klaus met briefly with US president George W. Bush on Sunday to discus mutual relations between their countries. They met in St. Petersburg where they attended official celebrations marking the 300th anniversary of the city. Czech press has speculated lately that relations between the White House and the Prague Castle cooled down due to the Mr. Klaus's reserved stance on the US-led invasion of Iraq. However, Czech presidential spokesman Tomas Klvana said the meeting between Mr. Klaus and Mr Bush was in a very friendly atmosphere. President Klaus is planning to visit the United States in the near future.
The government's pro-EU campaign enters the final stage. This week, all Czechs eligible to vote will receive information about the upcoming historic referendum on the country's accession to the EU. Information about various aspects of EU membership will be distributed to all mailboxes throughout the country. The first referendum in Czech history will take place on June 13 and 14. Turnout in Czech elections has been very low in the recent years but the government believes its campaign will attract people to vote in the referendum.
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