European Union food inspectors have begun inspecting Czech food companies in a final check up before EU accession in May. However the inspection was overshadowed by what could be the country's first case of BSE or mad cow disease this year, and the ninth case since BSE was first discovered in a Czech herd in 2001. The State Veterinary Authority says test results should determine by Thursday whether the cow, from a farm near Litomysl, was infected. Food safety has been a key issue in accession talks between Brussels and Prague. Last year, the EU said hygiene at meat processing plants and dairies was a problem which needed addressing before accession. Several hundred companies were forced to close at the end of 2003.
Miroslav Sladek, the controversial leader of the far- right Republican Party, has been successful in local elections in the town of Utechov, a district in the Czech Republic's second-largest city Brno. Mr Sladek, along with his Independents, called "Prosperity and Security", received over 38 percent of votes and three posts in the 7-member town council. Mr Sladek could now even be elected mayor, his first significant return to politics since his far-right Republicans were knocked out of Parliament in general elections in 1998. Mr Sladek's group's finish in elections Saturday was followed by the Independents for Moravia, led by Zdenek Drahos, the former director of public broadcaster Czech TV's studio in Brno.
Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda has wound up an important four-day visit to the Middle East, which included stops in Iraq, the Palestinian territories and Egypt, where the foreign minister met with Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak on Sunday. On the table for discussion were economic and military issues as well as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the situation in Iraq. Earlier Mr Svoboda indicated the Czech Republic viewed Egypt as an important player in the region. Meanwhile, a representative of the Czech Foreign Ministry, Martin Kosatka, has indicated the Czech Republic aims to specialise in Middle Eastern affairs within the framework of the European Union. The Czech Republic joins on May 1st.
A flight by the national carrier CSA from Prague to New York was forced to turn back on Saturday after experiencing technical difficulties. Reports say the plane suffered problems with its hydraulic system forcing it to return, landing at Prague's Ruzyne airport at around five pm local time on Saturday evening. A spokeswoman for the airline has said that at no time were the passengers on the flight in any danger, though one passenger did experience nausea and had to receive treatment.
Czech President Vaclav Klaus most certainly raised an eyebrow or two on Sunday when he visited his former arch political rival Milos Zeman - in retirement at his cottage in the Czech Republic's Vysocina region. Both men met for about two-and-a-half hours, saying afterwards they had avoided discussing political issues and spoken simply as "regular guys". Mr Klaus had been on the way back from ski championships in Moravia when he stopped at Mr Zeman's home; he also invited Mr Zeman to now visit him at the presidential Lany Chateau. For years Mr Klaus and Mr Zeman represented the most heated of political rivals in Czech high politics. However, they always granted each other a measure of respect. Their last clash came last year during presidential elections, where Mr Zeman crashed out and Mr Klaus eventually persevered.
Police investigating an attack on Saturday targeting Tomas Nemecek, the editor-in-chief of the independent weekly Respekt, say they are treating the attack as a case of attempted grievous bodily harm. Motives for the assault, however, remain unknown. On Saturday two men in their early twenties attacked Mr Nemecek outside his home, spraying tear gas in his eyes and kicking him repeatedly in the head. Mr Nemecek, who suffered cuts, bruises, and a mild concussion, is expected to spend the week in hospital. One of Mr Nemecek's assistant managers at the weekly Respekt suggested in the meantime that the attack could have been a warning for the paper, involved in investigative reports of various criminal organisations in recent months.
According to the Czech news agency CTK Health Minister Marie Souckova has pledged she will resign if upcoming reforms in the healthcare sector failed to pass in Parliament. Mrs Souckova told the agency she made the promise at both a Friday meeting of the Social Democratic Party's national leadership and a regional conference in south Moravia on Saturday. Reacting to his health minister's words, Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla said Mrs Souckova's pledge was nothing unusual in political life, indicating crucial decisions required full conviction. Mrs Souckova is confident her planned reforms can help stabilise financial problems in the healthcare sector. She has stressed that despite problems Czech healthcare is still highly regarded abroad, known for its well-trained and highly experienced professionals.
Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda, on a tour of the Middle East, has met with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. On Saturday the Foreign Minister accompanied Mr Arafat to view the leader's former headquarters in Ramallah, destroyed by Israeli forces. During their meeting Mr Svoboda said the Czech Republic recognised the Palestinians' right to a sovereign state. However, he stressed the need for the Palestinian leadership to clamp down on terrorist groups. For his part Mr Arafat urged the Czech Republic - a future EU member - to take advantage of good relations with Israel to encourage the state to honour its requirements in the proposed peace plan. Mr Arafat contended these were not being met at the current time. Finally, Mr Arafat was not the only Palestinian leader the Czech Foreign Minister met with on Saturday: Mr Svoboda also had the chance to talk with Palestinian counterpart Nabil Shaath, as well as Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei.
Around 130 visitors from around the Czech Republic and abroad gathered in the town of Vsetaty, near Melnik, north of Prague on Saturday, to remember Jan Palach, the 20-year-old student of philosophy who set himself on fire in 1969 in protest of the occupation of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact troops. Vsetaty was Mr Palach's home town. Saturday's gathering saw several speakers honour Jan Palach's sacrifice, including doctor Tomas Roith, who took part in the very first commemoration of the drastic suicide in 1969. Describing Jan Palach's act, Mr Roith said the suicide had been a warning against encroaching "normalisation" - the period that choked all remnants of political and cultural reforms known as the Prague Spring. Another speaker Antonin Vrba meanwhile said Mr Palach's act was misunderstood even today: in his words Mr Palach's suicide was "not only a protest against the Soviet-led invasion but foremost a protest against the loss of Prague Spring ideals".
Representatives from the Freedom Union, a junior member of the country's ruling coalition, have indicated they could imagine better candidates to represent the Czech Republic in the EU than current Social Democrat candidate Milos Kuzvart. Although the Freedom Union put forward no concrete nominees on Saturday, Freedom Union leader Petr Mares said his party favoured individuals with international experience, like former diplomat to the U.S. Alexandr Vondra, or current Ambassador to the European Union Pavel Telicka. Mr Mares said he imagined three names could be put forward for the post. Originally, it has been expected that the government, made up of the ruling Social Democrats, the Christian Democrats, and the Freedom Union, would only put forward a single candidate.
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