A Czech delegation to the European Parliament has handed over a legal analysis of the controversial Benes decrees, which should help to clarify the Czech government's refusal to have them revoked. The decrees, which sanctioned the expulsion of some 2.5 million ethnic Germans and the confiscation of property of thousands of ethnic Hungarians at the end of the SWW, have evoked fresh controversy in central Europe after Austrian and Hungarian politicians called for them to be revoked since they were not in line with present day human rights legislation. The Czech government has refused to comply with this request saying that the Benes decrees were part of a broader post-war settlement framework in Europe and any move to rescind them could have serious legal consequences.
The District Court in the east Bohemian city of Hradec Kralove has criticised the approach taken by police during an incident which took place outside the court on Friday. Following the sentencing of a 22-year-old neo-nazi skinhead for the racially motivated murder of a Romany man, a group of skinheads shouted racial abuse at Romanies leaving the court. The police made no arrests, despite the fact that racial abuse is illegal in the Czech Republic. A spokesperson for the court said the police should have intervened.
A court in Hradec Kralove, east Bohemia has sentenced a neo-nazi skinhead to 13 years in prison for the murder of a Romany man. Last July twenty-two-year-old Vlastimil Pechanec racially abused Romany Ota Absolon at a disco in the town of Svitavy before stabbing him fatally in the stomach. Police intervened outside the court on Friday as a group of skinheads supporting Pechanec tried to attack human rights activists. On Thursday a court in Prague gave a skinhead seven years in prison for attacking three people.
Czech MPs are to discuss amending the election law to overcome problems with Czechs voting abroad. The law was recently changed to give Czech citizens living abroad the right to vote, but only recently did officials realise that the difference in time zones could complicate June's general elections. The polls in the Czech Republic will close at 2 p.m. local time, but polling booths in the west coast of the United States, for example, would not close for another nine hours. Election results cannot be published until all polling booths have closed. MPs are to discuss plans to change the law, allowing Czechs living abroad to vote a day earlier.
The EC negotiator for the Czech Republic, Rutger Wissels said on Monday that the closing of the economic competition chapter during EU accession talks may be hampered by the Czech Republic's failure to speed up the restructuring of the steel sector. According to Mr Wissels, Prague is reluctant to realise that restructuring is necessary in order for the Czech steel industry to survive. He added that talks with the Trade and Industry Ministry were not going forward and that his colleagues were upset that the Czech side viewed the EC's proposed methods of solution as harmful.
Austria's right-wing Freedom Party has renewed criticism of the Czech Republic's Temelin nuclear power plant, saying it would push for a veto against Czech European Union membership, unless the plant is shut down. In an Austrian parliamentary debate on Thursday Freedom Party member Peter Westenthaler reminded parliament members that it was his party that represented the voice of more than 900, 000 Austrians who signed an anti-Temelin petition in January. His statement drew rebuttals from the opposition Social Democratic Party's Josef Cap, who argued that threatening the Czech Republic with a veto on EU accession would not increase Temelin's safety.
NATO Secretary General George Robertson has said the NATO summit in Prague this November will be a "defining moment" which will begin a transformation of the alliance. Mr Robertson made the comments at a press conference after meeting with students at Prague's Charles University; saying the changes would make NATO better suited for the security challenges of the 21st century. The secretary general also emphasised that the transformation would include the participation of Russia, though it is not yet clear just how that country will fit into the overall picture. Mr Robertson is currently in the Czech Republic to examine preparations for the upcoming summit, which will see the leaders of 19 member states meet to discuss alliance expansion, the modernisation of national defence, and the development of new strategies in the fight against terrorism.
A Czech anti-chemical unit has arrived in Kuwait to take part in the United States-led military campaign entitled 'Enduring Freedom'. A plane carrying almost all of the 250 soldiers who will take part in the campaign arrived in Kuwait on Tuesday morning. The soldiers were taken to the camp at Dauha where they are to spend the next six months. Czech anti-chemical troops are said to be among the best in the world.
A member of the European Parliament and representative of Austria's far-right Freedom Party, Daniela Raschhof said on Monday that the EU Commissioner for Enlargement, Guenter Verheugen, had "gone down on his knees" before Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman. Mrs Raschhof's remark came in response to Mr Verheugen's refusal to make the Benes decrees, which sanctioned the expulsion of 2.5 million ethnic Germans from Czechoslovakia, an EU problem. Mrs Raschhof added that Mr Verheugen should have waited for the European Parliament to present its view on the Benes decrees before assuring Prime Minister Zeman that the decrees would not influence EU enlargement. The failure to do so proved Mr Verheugen's 'ignorance', Mrs Raschhof said.
A public opinion poll conducted by the GfK Prague agency at the end of February and beginning of March showed that a little under two-thirds of Czech citizens intend to cast their votes at the general elections in June. Estimates from experts in the field, however, are more positive, expecting up to 75% of the population to vote. This would bring figures closer to those recorded in 1998, when 74% of Czech citizens voted at the parliamentary elections.
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