The Chamber of Deputies defence committee has recommended that the lower house pass a government-sponsored bill allowing the U.S. Air Force to help guard Czech airspace during the NATO summit in Prague this November 21-22. Of all the parties only the Communists did not support the bill at the committee level. The Lower House is now set to debate the bill either this Thursday or Friday. In related news Defence Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik told the defence committee Wednesday that the USA would deploy up to fifteen fighter jets as part of the operation to protect Czech airspace, with F- 15 and F-16s taking off from bases in the Czech Republic, Britain, Germany and Italy. A total of 250 U.S. soldiers will serve in the operation and who will legally not be accountable for damages in the event of an accident or attack. Any strike would first have to be approved by the Czech defence minister or a chosen deputy.
The Czech border authorities have warned visitors to the Czech Republic that after November 15th border security will be very tight in connection with the upcoming NATO summit. People entering the country by car can expect a thorough check up of their documents, luggage and vehicle and, consequently a much longer wait at the border. During the summit itself, on November 21st and 22nd, some parts of Prague will be closed off to the public and there may be changes in public transport.
The Czech government is to decide whether or not the controversial President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko should be granted a visa to the Czech Republic. President Lukashenko, whose country has voiced strong opposition to NATO expansion, has applied for a visa in view of attending the November NATO summit in Prague. According to unofficial sources at NATO headquarters President Lukashenko has not been invited to the summit. Belarus, criticized by the West over its record on human rights and freedom of speech, has been at odds with several international institutions.
The Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament has approved a resolution on the controversial Benes decrees, stating that they do not present a hurdle to the Czech Republic's accession to the EU. The verdict is based on the outcome of a legal expertise commissioned by the European Parliament which concluded that the decrees are not in violation of EU law. The Benes decrees, which sanctioned the expulsion of 2.5 million ethnic Germans from Czechoslovakia after WWII, have been criticized by some groups in Austria and Germany who asked the Czech Republic to abolish the decrees before joining the European Union.
The Czech police announced on Monday, they had charged nine men last week for supporting and propagating movements that suppress man's basic rights and freedoms. Apart from publicly giving the Nazi salute, wearing racist and neo-Nazi symbols and spreading racist material, they are also suspected of having organised four concerts featuring racist bands. According to Patrik Frk from the Czech police, the men between the ages of 19 and 25 were uncovered as part of operation Patriot - a wide police campaign against extremism that was launched in August 2001. Mr Frk added that the Central Bohemian police spent over a year verifying evidence against the men. When the police raided suspects' homes in May this year, hundreds of compact discs, cassettes, t-shirts and other materials that all propagate racism were found. The suspects have not been detained by the police but may face between three to eight years in prison if found guilty of the charges.
After declaring a state of legislative emergency on Monday, Lower House Speaker Lubomir Zaoralek announced that discussion on a bill to allow the U.S. Air Force help guard Czech airspace during the upcoming NATO summit in Prague would be accelerated. The foreign, defence and security committees of the lower house have until 1800hrs on Wednesday to submit any proposed changes to the bill in order to allow for it to be discussed during the lower house's session on Thursday. The bill will be debated in a shortened format. Instead of going through the regular three readings, it will be voted on in one day. The government approved the bill at its meeting on Sunday. After the lower house, it will be discussed by the Senate.
Another building was closed down in Prague's Karlin district on Monday after security checks proved it no longer safe. This brings the total number of flood-damaged buildings in the district to forty-three. In Prague, Karlin was most hit by the devastating floods in August. Out of its 25,000 inhabitants, only some 30% have been allowed to return to their homes. The rest are either staying with friends and relatives or have been given alternate provisional housing.
Analysts say the results of the Senate elections are not very significant for either political or economic developments in the Czech Republic. Although the ruling coalition lost a majority in the Senate, the opposition will be able only to delay the adoption of new legislation but not prevent it, because the lower house can override a Senate veto if the coalition partners are able to reach agreements between themselves. The distribution of power in the Upper House will only be crucial for the election of the next president, after Vaclav Havels second, final term in office expires in January.
The United States Government confirmed that it would provide the Czech Republic with air defence support during the NATO summit to take place in Prague later this month. This assurance came amidst reports that the United States might not provide its combat aircraft for guarding the Czech air space because of unclear liability for potential accidents and damage. The Czech government is to meet Sunday evening to approve a law which would define powers and responsibilities of both sides in the event of an emergency situation.
The parties of the ruling coalition, the Social Democrats, Christian Democrats and the Freedom Union lost their majority in the Upper House of parliament after the second round of the Senate elections this weekend. Most successful were members of the opposition right-of-centre Civic Democrats and independent candidates. The government coalition won nine out of 27 contested seats and fell seven seats short of majority. Elections to the Senate are held every two years to replace one third of the Senators.
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