Meanwhile, far-right extremist briefly protested outside the French Embassy on Saturday, defying a ban on the rally by Prague authorities, AP reports. The National Party said it had planned the "protest against black violence" and what it called "racial terror in France." Prague's City Hall this week banned the demonstration, saying its aim would be to incite racial hatred as its organizers had voiced opposition to violence "committed by immigrants of non-French origin, mainly from Africa" when announcing the event. Roughly a dozen party members gathered in defiance of the ban, and briefly displayed banners that read "Islam in Europe leads to terrorism in the streets" and "Black racism" before they left. Party leader Jan Skacel said they were opposed to immigration because immigrants were unable to assimilate and their foreign cultures were a source of conflicts. France has been plagued by two weeks of unrest mainly in poor suburbs, marked by nightly car torchings and clashes between gangs of youths and police.
A regional court in Ostrava has ordered a local hospital to apologise to woman who was sterilised without her consent, the news agency AFP reported. The decision Friday was the first to deal with around 80 complaints by Roma women. A judge ruled that the complainant, a 22-year-old Helena Ferencikova, had not given her qualified consent from the procedure -- a violation of her personal rights. Hospital doctors said the sterilisation was carried out for health reasons and that noted that she signed a letter agreeing to the procedure. Ms Ferencikova said she was in the throes of birth pains at the time and was unaware of the letter's contents. An investigation by the Czech ombudsman's office has found no proof of a campaign of "systematic sterilisation" against the minority group.
Former president Vaclav Havel has said he is hard at work on a new play. His last wrote a play in 1988, the year before the Velvet Revolution which swept him into office. Mr Havel stepped down as president in February 2003. Before entering politics, he wrote fifteen plays for the theatre. Mr Havel said that, like "all of his previous work," the new play would explore the nature of human identity and address themes of morality and accountability.
In other political news, the Christian Democrats, a junior coalition party, have approved their final list of regional election leaders in the 2006 contest. Among the most high-profile candidates are the current Minister of Foreign Affairs, Cyril Svoboda, who will lead the party ticket in the region of Prague, and political independent Jaromir Drabek, the chairman of the Economic Chamber, who will lead the contest in Liberec. Miroslav Kalousek, who was re-elected party leader on Saturday, will head the list of candidates in South Bohemia and first deputy chairman Jan Kasal will lead the contest in Vysocina.
Czech Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek, on an official visit to Bosnia-Herzegovina, said his country was looking to play a more active role in the Balkans. He also promised Bosnian Prime Minister Adnan Terzic help from Czech experts in that country's eventual bid for membership in the European Union. Mr Paroubek said that a Prague seminar on investment possibilities in Bosnia-Herzegovina would be held in the coming months.
Outgoing Agriculture Minister Petr Zgarba has withdrawn his name for consideration as a regional election leader for the ruling Social Democratic party. He was recently nominated to lead the party ticket in Vysocina region despite allegations of corruption at a state body under his control. The board of the Czech Land Fund, of which Zgarba was chairman, was dismissed last week under suspicion of having passed on inside information to land speculators. Mr Zgarba denies any wrongdoing, but will is to step down as Agriculture Minister this Wednesday for failing to prevent questionable property deals from going through during his tenure. Mr Zgarba will remain a candidate in the 2006 parliamentary elections.
A replica of England's famous Elizabethan-era Globe theatre burnt to the ground on Saturday. The round wooden structure, a faithful duplicate of the theatre where many of William Shakespeare's plays were first performed, was built on the Holesovice fairgrounds of Prague in 1999. The cause of the fire has not yet been determined.
The Prague Jewish Community has elected a new leader after a year of rows within the community. The new chairman, Frantisek Banyai, has been acting leader since last year when the previous chairman Tomas Jelinek was dismissed. The term of the new leadership will expire in 2008 and according to deputy chairman Jakub Roth, its main goal is to stabilise the situation within the community.
The newly appointed Health Minister David Rath imposed forced
administration on VZP, the largest state-owned Czech health insurance
company, on Thursday. He said the move was supposed to improve the
company's ailing finances. Health Minister Rath along with Prime
Minister Jiri Paroubek called on the VZP's director Jirina Musilkova to
resign but she refused to step down.
The government's move has been criticised by the opposition right-of-centre Civic Democrats as well as Czech President Vaclav Klaus, who is on a state visit to India.
The former Czech President Vaclav Havel said that people in post-communist states, including the Czech Republic, will sooner or later call for changes as they will not tolerate the interconnection of economic and political elites that replaced communist regimes in the 1990s. Speaking in Prague on Friday at a meeting of the Club of Madrid, Mr Havel said that the public refuses to accept mafia practices at a certain moment and people start awakening as citizens. He also said the call for change has been already evident in Ukraine or Georgia. The former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson, who's also attending, said on Friday the European Union should make more efforts towards the democratisation of Belarus. The Club of Madrid was established in the Spanish capital three years ago and its members, former heads of states, meet regularly. The present forum is its first event held outside Spain.
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