The Czech People in Need Foundation launched a campaign on Monday to commemorate seventy-five Cuban journalists and human rights activists who were imprisoned by the Castro regime last April. Under the Stop Repression in Cuba campaign, seventy-five volunteers represent the prisoners and spend an hour each in a symbolic cell set up on Prague's Wenceslas Square. Among the volunteers are politicians, artists, and journalists including Senate Chairman Petr Pithart, Deputy Prime Minister Petr Mares, journalist and former dissident Petr Uhl, and artist David Cerny.
Czech Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla is currently on a two-day visit to Romania aimed at strengthening bilateral political and business relations. At a meeting with his counterpart Adrian Nastase, Mr Spidla offered to help Romania prepare for EU membership by sharing Czech experiences. The two politicians also agreed that there was room for more trade. The Czech government's CzechTrade agency promoting foreign trade used the occasion of Mr Spidla's visit to open its new office in Bucharest. On Tuesday, Mr Spidla plans to meet with members of the Czech community and attend a Czech-Romanian business forum. He is scheduled to leave for Macedonia on Tuesday evening.
Czechs paid tribute to the victims of the Madrid bomb blasts by holding three minutes of silence at noon on Monday. Thursday's attacks on Madrid commuter trains left 200 dead and close to 1,500 injured. On Monday and Tuesday, people can sign a condolence book at the Spanish Embassy in Prague. A solemn mass in memory of the victims of the terrorist attacks will also be held at Prague's St Tomas' Church on Tuesday afternoon.
The number of law suits filed by Czech citizens against the Czech Republic with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg is on a dramatic rise. A government representative at the European Court, Vit Schorm, told the CTK news agency on Monday that, since 1993, the Czech Republic has spent 17 million crowns on disputes with citizens in the European Court. Compared to the number of suits lodged in 2002, there were some 88% more filed against the country in 2003.Out of the fifteen cases the state has lost, only two have been resolved so far.
The terrorist attack in Madrid will not speed up plans to move the Prague-based headquarters of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) out of the city centre. According to Sonia Winter, spokesperson for the US funded station, there are also no plans to tighten security around the building, which sits next to the National Museum at the top of Wenceslas Square. The Czech government discussed re-locating the building after the September 11 attacks on the United States for fear that attacks against US interests around the world would follow.
Disputes over a series of bills aimed at fighting tax evasions threaten to break the governing coalition. They include the introduction of property declarations obligatory for people with income over a certain level, labelling of alcohol, and cash registers. The senior coalition partner, the Social Democrats, want the push the new laws through regardless of the opinion of the two smaller parties. The Freedom Union and the Christian Democrats say the bills go too far in some respects and want them revised to comply with the government manifesto, otherwise, they threaten to leave the coalition. The opposition Communist party said on Sunday it was ready to vote for the Social Democrat version in Parliament.
Czech Interior Minister Stanislav Gross said that border checks and conditions for granting visas to citizens from risk countries would be tightened in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Madrid on Thursday for which the international terrorist network Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility. Mr. Gross said that the police would start using dogs in street patrols capable of detecting explosives. He added however that the secret services had no indications of a terrorist attack being prepared against the Czech Republic. Mr. Gross also said that people from his ministry and the secret services would meet more frequently to assess gathered intelligence. Mr. Gross has also called on the public to show comprehension for the tightened security measures and to try to cooperate with security forces.
The police have arrested more than 20 neo-Nazi skinheads in the northern town of Most and charged them with promoting an ideology aimed at suppression of human rights and freedoms. Some 50 skinheads marched through Most with lit torches, chanting Nazi slogans, to mark the 66th anniversary of the German annexation of Austria. The group was heading for a housing estate inhabited mainly by Romanies. The police seized knives, iron rods and telescopic truncheons from the skinheads.
The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture has criticised the Czech Republic for inappropriate treatment of detainees and prisoners. The committee demands the elimination of certain excesses in the police treatment of detained persons and abandoning an unnecessarily tough treatment of prisoners. In its latest report on the Czech Republic, the committee points to numerous accusations concerning police brutality during arresting and interrogation. It says that Romanies, foreigners and young people are most often subject to harsh treatment. The Council of Europe Anti-Torture Committee also calls on Czech authorities to improve treatment of prisoners and to make further efforts to eliminate overcrowding in prisons.
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