Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kohout has called for the Burmese military regime to immediately release democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The message was delivered to the Burmese Foreign Minister Nyan Win on behalf of the EU at a two-day meeting of South-East Asian states in Hanoi. It also called for the regime to restart talks with the opposition. Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, is currently on trial charged with breaking the conditions of the house arrest which she has suffered for 13 years.
The Czech Republic has confirmed its first case of the H1NI or ‘swine flu’ virus. The country’s chief medical officer Michael Vit said the infected person is a 29-year-old man from Prague who had returned from New York. He is being kept isolated at home. Doctors are examining nine people who have been in close contact with the man. So far they are reported to have no signs of the virus. Around 90 people worldwide have so far died from swine flu since it broke out in Mexico earlier this year.
A survey ahead of June’s European Parliament elections has put the two main Czech political parties head to head in voter support. The survey by Olomouc’s Palacký University shows the right-wing Civic Democrats and left-wing Social Democrats with 29 percent of voter intentions. The Communists come in third with 15 percent and the Christian Democrats with 5.5 percent. The Greens are unlikely to pass the 5.0 percent threshold needed to win any seats, it concludes. Around 40 percent of Czechs have said they intend to take part in the vote on June 5 and 6. Another survey by the CVVM agency put the Civic Democrats ahead with 36.5 percent and the Social Democrats trailing with 28 percent.
The caretaker government of Prime Minister Jan Fischer also agreed public spending limits until 2012. Curbing government spending is one of the government’s biggest priorities. Newly installed Minister of Finance Eduard Janota has already taken a tough line calling for next year’s budget deficit not to exceed 170 billion crowns or 4.7 percent of Gross Domestic Product. The cabinet decided the deficit should fall from 165 billion crowns in 2010 to 160 billion a year later and 156 billion in 2012. The Finance Minister warned that even these levels would distance the country from adopting the single currency euro. For that the budget deficit needs to be below 3.0 percent.
Czech attitudes towards its EU presidency have hardened following the collapse of the government in March, a survey out on Monday revealed. Fifty-one percent of Czechs taking part in a Factum Invenio survey said they thought the presidency had benefited the country as against 72 percent a month earlier. Around a third said they thought it had damaged the country as against 17 percent in the earlier poll. Pollsters said the fall of the centre-right coalition was responsible for the change in opinion.
Separately, Foreign Minister Kohout has attacked North Korea after it claimed to have successfully tested a nuclear weapon on Monday. In a statement the Czech Foreign Minister said the test threatened stability on the Korean peninsula and international peace and security. The test was a breach of an agreement between North and South Korea and a United Nations resolution, it added. The Czech Republic, which has the rotating presidency of the EU, said the matter should be taken up by the UN’s Security Council.
The Czech caretaker government finalised its policy programme at a meeting on Monday. The statement of priorities - which was not immediately made public - should pave the way for Prime Minister Jan Fischer to ask the lower house for a confidence vote. The government is virtually assured of winning the vote given that the two main political parties played the major role in its creation. The government also backed an amendment to the so-called muzzling law which bans identifying victims or suspects of crime or wire taps without their consent. Three backbenchers have tabled an amendment which would allow information to be released in the public interest.
Confidence in the outlook for the Czech economy rose in May. The latest results make it three months in a row that the economic confidence indicator has climbed. May’s increase was a meagre 0.2 percentage point according to the Czech Statistical Office. Higher confidence was fuelled rising consumer confidence with the business sector still in the dumps. The indicator now stands at 79.2, still not that far from this year’s low of 73.8 points posted in February.
With regards to the ongoing discussion over the privatisation of Prague Airport, the Finance Minister also stated that the new government’s official policy statement would make no mention of the issue. According to Mr Janota, an economic recession is not an appropriate time for the sale of any kind of property, and the government should keep strategic control over the airport until such time as an elected government can decide on the matter. The statement was praised by the Social Democratic party, which has conditioned their vote of confidence in the new government on the rejection of the airport’s privatisation.
Moreover, the extreme right National Party intends to request that elections to the European Parliament be invalidated after their election commercials were banned from Czech television and Czech Radio. The party stated on Sunday that it would take its complaint to the court and to the relevant institutions of the EU following the elections. Czech Television broadcast an ad by the neo-Nazi party last week which offered a “final solution to the gypsy question” - an expression used by the Nazis during World War II in reference to the extermination of Jews, Romanies and others.