The respected journalist, publicist and former dissident, Jiri Ruml, has died. Mr Ruml lost his long and hard battle against cancer on Friday night, at the age of 78 years. The father of former Interior Minister and Senator Jan Ruml is mainly known for his active engagement in the underground dissident movement in the 1960s and 1970s. He was a spokesperson for the Charter 77 human rights manifesto and co-founder of the samizdat paper Lidove Noviny. In the early 1990s, he headed a parliamentary commission to investigate the StB Soviet-era secret police forces and was honoured with a Medal of Merit by former president Vaclav Havel in 2001.
Some forty far-right activists gathered in front of the Justice Ministry on Saturday for a silent protest against the imprisonment of a 22-year-old skinhead. Vlastimil Pechanec was found guilty of stabbing a 30-year-old Romany man to death in a club in the town of Svitavy last year and was given a 13-year jail sentence.
The leaders of the ruling coalition parties shall meet on Monday to discuss who should represent the country in the European Commission, Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla has announced. The government suffered a diplomatic setback on Friday when its candidate, Social Democrat MP Milos Kuzvart, said he was no longer interested in the post. Mr Kuzvart withdrew his candidacy for a lack of sufficient support from the government, especially from the Foreign Ministry. According to Labour and Social Affairs Minister Zdenek Skromach, the Czech Ambassador to the Council of Europe Vlasta Stepova would be a suitable candidate for the post in the European Commission. Petr Mares, leader of the Freedom Union - a junior coalition partner, also agrees that Mrs Stepova meets the requirements.
The Czech Republic has done little to be able to use the European Union's structural funds after it joins the EU in May, the country's regional governors claim. They blame the central bodies of the government administration for failing to set the rules for drawing financial aid from EU funds. Frantisek Dohnal, governor for the Jihlava region, says he and his colleagues still lack the necessary documents and the money to co-finance individual projects. Experts have agreed that the Czech Republic will not be able to use the whole sum on offer.
Czech President Vaclav Klaus signed a new law on Friday reducing the road tax for environment-friendly trucks. The law will reduce costs for transport companies who have had to cope with higher excise tax on diesel and more expensive highway stickers since the beginning of this year. The law cuts road tax by 66 per cent for trucks complying with the Euro 3 standard and by 60 per cent for older trucks meeting the Euro 2 standard. Last autumn, transport firms threatened to stage protests over growing costs, but in the end, they agreed with the government on compensation in the form of a lower road tax.
The senior opposition Civic Democrats have called on the government to start a new round of debates on a Czech candidate to the European Commission. The Civic Democrats said they considered the situation harmful to the Czech Republic's international reputation. They also criticised the government for pushing Mr. Kuzvart as the country's candidate without a broader political support. The Civic Democrats had proposed former environment minister Bedrich Moldan as a candidate and said they were willing to start discussing a generally acceptable compromise.
The Czech Republic's candidate for EU commissioner, Social Democrat MP Milos Kuzvart officially announced on Friday he was no longer interested in the post. Mr. Kuzvart said he was giving up the candidacy because he did not feel sufficient support from the government. Earlier this week, Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda criticised the ruling Social Democrats for having chosen Mr. Kuzvart despite disapproval of the other two coalition partners.
The Dutch Prime Minister Peter Balkenende is to visit Prague on Monday, just two days after his country severely restricted access to its labour market by citizens from new EU member states. He is to meet his Czech counterpart Vladimir Spidla, as well as president Vaclav Klaus and heads of both houses of the Czech Parliament. It is expected that the Czech representatives will bring up the issue of free movement of labour. Until recently, the Netherlands was one of the few EU countries that did not want to limit employment of workers from the ten accession countries. However, on Friday, the Hague government approved restrictions, including a ban on employing people from the new member states in areas with high unemployment. Elsewhere, they could be employed only if there is no suitable Dutch candidate.
The Czech Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla has spoken in favour of sending NATO troops to Iraq. In an interview with the DPA press agency before his visit to Germany on Tuesday, Mr. Spidla said a quick deployment of a large NATO contingent was desirable in order to stabilise Iraq, which is vital for Europe and the whole region. In his opinion, building a secure Iraq will take several years. Mr. Spidla is to visit Berlin this week to discuss mainly financial perspectives of enlarged EU. He stressed that Prague was willing to compromise regarding the EU constitution provided balance is maintained between small and large nations.
Supporters of former Social Democrat leader and Prime Minister Milos Zeman have failed with their attempt to bring him back to the political limelight at a Social Democrat meeting at the weekend. The party voted down a proposal from a rebel faction to re-institute Mr. Zeman to high party circles. Milos Zeman stood behind the Social Democrats' election victory in 1998 but retired from politics completely after his term in office expired in 2002. Lately, he has been a vocal critic of the ruling party's policies and has called for a change of the leadership.
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