The Czech-US missile defense treaty still needs to be approved by Parliament and a vote on it is expected late this year or early next year. The issue has divided the Czech political scene and support for it in the lower house is far from certain. Public opinion is also against the radar base with 68 percent of Czechs opposing the deal. Close to two thousand people took to the streets of Prague on Tuesday to protest against the treaty.
The Czech government on Wednesday approved a transfer of assets worth 2, 5 billion crowns from the state-run Správa Letiště Praha operating Prague's Ruzyně airport to the joint-stock company Letiště Praha, Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek told journalists after a cabinet meeting. The transfer is another step in the process of privatizing Prague’s main airport. The government established Letiště Praha as a joint-stock company with a share capital of 2 million crowns for the purpose of privatisation in February this year. Letiště Praha is to take over most of Správa Letiště Praha's assets by the year's end. The sale of Prague's airport is considered one of the biggest investment opportunities in the sector. Dozens of companies have already shown preliminary interest in the privatisation.
President Klaus has invited Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek, Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg and Deputy Prime Minister for European Affairs Alexander Vondra to Lány Chateau next Tuesday for foreign policy consultations. The meeting is expected to center around the country’s upcoming EU presidency and issues relating to the Lisbon treaty.
Meanwhile, the United States urged Russia on Wednesday to join its planned missile defense as “equal partners”, playing down Moscow’s warning about taking retaliatory action. White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said Washington was interested in developing a missile defense system between the United States, Russia and Europe, with everyone participating as equal partners. He said the system was not aimed against Russia, adding that Moscow’s missile arsenal “absolutely dwarfed” it. According to inside sources Moscow fears that the radar system could be pointed into Russia for intelligence-gathering purposes. Prague has rejected Moscow’s demand that it be allowed to have permanent military inspectors at the site, on the grounds that it did not want even a small Russian military presence on Czech soil.
The leadership of the Green Party is to meet on Wednesday evening to debate the recommendations of an expert commission regarding the country’s future energy policy. The commission concluded in its report to the cabinet that the government should not rule out any energy sources outright –including nuclear energy. The Green Party entered the governing coalition on the grounds of an agreement binding the three parties not to support the development of nuclear power in the country. In recent weeks Prime Minister Topolánek indicated that he regarded this as a short term restriction.
President Vaclav Klaus has said he would sign the Czech-American radar agreement with “no hesitation whatsoever”, if it were approved by Parliament. At a brief press conference in Prague the president said that he regarded the radar as a unifying element in the country’s partnership with the United States. Asked to comment on Russia’s angry response to the missile defense project Mr. Klaus said that Prague and Washington had to keep trying to convince Moscow that placing elements of the missile defense system in two post-communist countries posed no threat to Russia.
There is heightened tension between the United States and Russia following the signing of a missile defense treaty between Washington and Prague on Tuesday. The agreement opens the way for the deployment of a US tracking radar on Czech soil. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said his country was “extremely upset” by this development and was considering retaliatory action. Speaking at a meeting of Group of Eight leaders in Japan President Medvedev said that although Moscow considered these plans a threat to its security it would act “without hysteria” and remain open to talks.
A twenty-nine year old man who is responsible for the death of a two year old girl faces an extraordinary punishment, even a life sentence, after an autopsy revealed that the child – his live-in girlfriend’s daughter – had been submitted to cruel long-term abuse. The man was originally charged with physical violence resulting in death for which he could have spent a maximum eight years in prison, but the charges against him have now been changed in view of the gravity of the medical findings. The police are also questioning the child’s mother who claims she had no idea of what was going on when she was away at work.
There is speculation as to the outcome of an investigation into the finances of Deputy Prime Minister Jiří Čunek by the private US detective agency Kroll. The investigation was commissioned and paid for by Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg who remained skeptical with regard to Mr. Čuneks’ proclaimed innocence after the police concluded that the corruption allegations against him were ungrounded. Mr. Čunek was accused of taking a one and a half million crown bribe while he was mayor of a town in Moravia. Minister Schwarzenberg said that if the Kroll investigation did not clear Mr. Čunek he himself would resign as foreign minister. Mr. Schwarzenberg received the results of the investigation a week ago but said on Wednesday he had been too busy with the Czech-US radar deal to study it properly.
Nearly 50 percent of Czechs believe that Czech parliament and the president should not approve the treaty on the deployment of a US radar base on Czech soil signed on Tuesday by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her Czech counterpart Karel Schwarzenberg, according to a poll conducted by the STEM agency in July. Around 50 percent of respondents think that the parliament should vote only after the US presidential elections in November.
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