At a weekend conference of the Communist party Miroslav Grebenicek
successfully defended his position as party leader, withstanding pressure
for reform by his main rival Miloslav Ransdorf. Mr. Ransdorf advocated the
need for a radical transformation which would enable the party to come out
of isolation. Disappointed by his defeat, Mr. Ransdorf did not seek
re-election as deputy chairman. Four of the five newly elected deputy
chairmen are also in favour of retaining the status quo.
Political analysts say the outcome of the conference is not surprising since in recent years support for the party has grown. Although the communists are currently the second strongest party on the Czech political scene, their chances of entering government are nil since no other parliamentary party will cooperate with them on that level.
The 59th Prague Spring International Music Festival 2004 is underway in the Czech capital. This year's highlights include celebrations of the centenary of the great Czech composer Antonin Dvorak and performances by his great grandson Josef Suk and Czech mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kozena. For the first time this year, the festival introduces a smaller series of late-night concerts called "concerts without a break and without a jacket" to take place in a more relaxed atmosphere. The Prague Spring Music Festival annually attracts thousands of visitors from both at home and abroad.
The government's human rights commissioner Jan Jarab says the Czech Republic's human rights record is improving but there is still much to be done. In his 2003 report, which the government is to debate on Wednesday, Mr. Jarab says that some progress has been made in fighting discrimination and racially motivated crimes but, the situation still varies in different regions. In particular, Mr. Jarab stresses the need to protect the rights of children and people receiving institutionalized care, who are not in a position to defend themselves or call attention to their suffering.
The Czech communist party is holding its annual conference in Ceske Budejovice this weekend with several senior party posts up for re-election. Miroslav Grebenicek, who is expected to retain his leadership of the party, said in his opening address on Saturday that the party was ready to enter government and "tame" what he described as "rampant capitalism" in the Czech Republic. He said present day capitalism had been "unleashed from the chain of the welfare state" and slammed the Social Democrats for allegedly deserting their election manifesto. Although the Communists are currently the second strongest party on the Czech political scene no other party is willing to cooperate with them in government.
Vaclav Havel has had to cancel his appearance at the opening night of a production of his play Pokuseni, or Temptation, at Prague's Estates Theatre; the former president is suffering from a lung inflammation, the latest bout of a bronchial illness which has been afflicting him for several years. Seven years ago Mr Havel, formerly a heavy smoker, had part of his right lung removed because of cancer.
Up to 14 of the 16 football clubs in the Czech first division have had some involvement with bribery, a police source told Friday's edition of the newspaper Mlada fronta Dnes. In the last two weeks, five referees and a senior official from Synot football club have been arrested on charges of match-fixing, in what is being described as the biggest scandal in the history of Czech football. Meanwhile, the chairman of the Czech football association, Jan Obst, said on Thursday he expected police to charge five to seven more people, most of them referees. Police are currently investigating every Czech league game played this season.
A 29-year-old man has been taken to hospital with severe burns after setting himself on fire in the west Bohemian town of Pilsen, police said on Friday. There have been several cases of self-immolation in the Czech Republic since a young man burnt himself to death on Prague's Wenceslas Square in March last year.
The human rights group Amnesty International has issued a report in which it criticises the Czech Republic for insufficient control of arms exports. It said weapons produced in the Czech Republic were sold to states such as Yemen and Sri Lanka with a history of diverting arms to other countries. For its part, the Czech Ministry of Defence said Amnesty International had not put forward a reasonable alternative. A spokesman said the organisation's only suggestion was to cease selling weapons altogether, which was "unrealistic". Meanwhile, the Ministry of Industry and Trade issued a statement on Friday saying it had not authorised any arms exports which contravened European Union regulations.
The culture minister on Iraq's governing council, Mufid al-Jazairi, has asked the Czech culture minister, Pavel Dostal, to send Czech experts to Iraq to help repair damage done to cultural artefacts during the war and during the previous regime. Mr al-Jazairi also held talks in Prague on Friday with Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda, who has just been released from hospital after injuring his neck in a car crash.
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