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".
The Czech government has approved the sending of up to 150 troops to join the U.S.-led peace-keeping operation in Afghanistan. NATO officials have been urging allies to strengthen peacekeeping and other operations in Afghanistan, where nearly 500 people have been killed since August in attacks by the ousted Taliban militia. Under the Czech plan, which must still be approved by parliament, 120 elite reconnaissance specialists will join forces attempting to destroy pockets of resistance loyal to the Taliban and al Qaeda. A further 30 Czech soldiers will be sent to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), under NATO command, in Kabul.
During its session on Wednesday, the government also approved an accession protocol by which the Czech Police Force will become part of the Europol Convention (the EU's police office), when the Czech Republic joins the European Union along with Cyprus, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovenia and Slovakia, in May.
The ten countries set to join the European Union in May this year will receive a little under six billion Euros (about 7.8 billion US dollars) from the European Union to serve as rural development aid. Out of the ten future member states, the Czech Republic is to be one of the main beneficiaries, promised 542 million euros. The money compensates the low aid in the form of direct payments to farmers. A spokesman for the European Commission said on Wednesday, the sum is to cover the 2004-2006 periods and is meant for "targeted and tailor-made rural development programmes".
The Czech government on Wednesday approved a defence ministry proposal to send 150 soldiers to Afghanistan. According to Defence Minister Miroslav Kostelka, a 120-member special-force unit will take part in the US-led Enduring Freedom operation and thirty soldiers will be part of the ISAF operation at Kabul airport. The Czech Republic was asked to deploy the soldiers by NATO.
Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla confirmed speculation on Wednesday that the Social Democratic Party, the senior ruling coalition partner, wants to see Milos Kuzvart in the European Commission. Mr Kuzvart, a current MP and former environment minister is therefore most likely to become the Czech Republic's EC representative. According to Mr Spidla, the 43-year old candidate is most suitable for the post as he speaks English and is already an active member of the environment and agriculture committees in the Council of Europe. However, not all parliamentary parties share Mr Spidla's view. Bedrich Moldan, the opposition right-of-centre Civic Democrats' shadow environment minister, and Ivana Janu, a judge at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia have also been named.
President Vaclav Klaus has vetoed an amendment to the law on the Constitutional Court. A spokesman for the Presidential Office said that according to Mr Klaus the law severely disturbed the balance between the legislative, executive and judicial powers. According to the President, the amended law would, in a concealed manner, broaden the powers of the Constitutional Court to the detriment of the government and parliament.
The International Monetary Fund has criticised the Czech Republic for continuing shortcomings in the judicial and legal systems and for weaknesses in corporate governance. In its Report on the Observance of Standards and Codes released on Monday, the International Monetary Fund or IMF said Czech courts suffered from insufficient resources and lack of wider experience among the judges in understanding modern business law and corporate finance. Other problems, stated by the IMF, include costly, cumbersome and non-transparent court proceedings. According to the IMF, slow court proceedings lead to significant backlog of filed and pending bankruptcy cases and weak legal protection of creditors' rights.
An elderly man blamed for a five-year string of bombings and bomb threats across the Czech Republic has died of self-inflicted wounds. Police said the 68-year-old retired locksmith died on Sunday in a Prague hospital from stab wounds to the neck. The man, whose name was withheld, had tried to kill himself while being arrested on December 29 near a memorial to Germans expelled from the former Czechoslovakia after World War II. The memorial in the northern town of Teplice nad Metuji was damaged by a bomb last spring. The memorial bombing had been one of 18 unsolved incidents since March 1999 that police thought might be the work of a single attacker.
Over 500 food processing plants in the Czech Republic have been closed down for failing to comply with EU regulations. The facilities, mainly beef, poultry, egg, fish and milk processing plants, failed to meet strict hygiene standards and other rules adopted by the Czech government ahead of the country's entry into the EU in May. The EU had issued several warnings that this would happen if EU norms were not met, but many producers failed to comply arguing that they lacked the finances needed.
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