A large EU flag hanging in the centre of Prague to mark the Czech Republic’s presidency of the European Union was burnt for the second time in three weeks on Friday night, the website tn.cz reported. The flag was set alight just after 19:00 CET, an employee of the emergency services said. The flag hangs in Letná, on the spot where a massive sculpture of Josef Stalin used to stand, and can be seen around the city centre. This is third time the flag has been vandalized since it was erected at the start of the Czech Republic’s EU presidency on January 1. Three weeks ago it was set alight and before that vandals cut a section out of the fabric. The site is now being guarded by police.
Czech Cardinal Miloslav Vlk has criticized Pope Benedict XVI for his decision to lift the excommunication of Bishop Richard Williamson. The British bishop has publicly denied the use of gas chambers during World War Two and the scale of the Holocaust. On Saturday, Lidové noviny reported that cardinal Miloslav Vlk spoke out against the Pope’s decision to reinstate Bishop Williamson on his website, saying the step had been taken ‘too lightly’. Cardinal Vlk added that, as a Catholic bishop, he categorically condemned anti-Semitism. On January 24, the Vatican reinstated Bishop Williamson, who had been excommunicated for 20 years. The move drew criticism from Jewish leaders, and some within the Catholic Church.
Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek is doing well at the head of the EU, a poll conducted by the STEM agency for Lidové noviny newspaper suggests. Respondents to the poll were asked to grade Mr Topolánek as if for a school report, with one being best, and five worst. The prime minister’s average was two minus. The poll also found that over 90 percent of those questioned were aware that the country currently held the EU presidency, and that 60 percent of respondents said that they did not like the controversial artwork the Czech Republic chose to represent its presidency – David Černý’s Entropa.
Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek is to meet with the head of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso and other commission members next week to discuss the global economic crisis. The meeting is to take place on Wednesday – roughly a month after the Czech Republic took up the rotating EU presidency. The EU has earmarked 200 billion euros to help boost the European economy but will now focus on how the funds will be applied. Next month will see an EU summit in Brussels on the issue.
A referendum bill on the Lisbon treaty, proposed by the Communist Party, has passed in a second reading, meaning that the lower house’s legal committee will now deal with the legislation. The Communists are seeking a referendum on the Lisbon treaty on the grounds the document, which aims to reform the functioning of the 27-member bloc, will fundamentally change the conditions of the Czechs’ membership. A recent poll suggested that a majority of the public (64 percent) is in favour of ratifying the treaty. In all, 25 other countries have now backed the document in parliament, while Irish voters rejected it in a referendum last June.
The DPA news agency has reported that Czech-born film director Dana Vávrová - best known for her performance as a child actor in the children’s film Ať žijí duchové – has died in Germany at the age of 41. During her career Mrs Vávrová also directed numerous projects in Germany as well as the more recent children’s film Hurá na Medvěda (Bear on the Run). Mrs Vávrová had been suffering from cancer.
The Czech business daily E15 has reported that the country’s centre-right government is allegedly ruling out the possibility of the country accepting suspects from the United States' prison in Guantanamo Bay. The Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg told the newspaper that the decision to accept [prisoners] would “not be fortunate” for the Czech Republic, saying he did not support such a solution. US President Barack Obama ordered the controversial prison to be closed within a year, after he was sworn into office in January. The European Parliament this week welcomed the decision for the prison to be closed and called on EU countries to accept some of the inmates.
The Chamber of Deputies has passed an amendment to the Czech penal code banning the publication – or broadcasting - of police wiretap material by the media. The amendment introduces prison sentences of up to five years for anyone who publishes transcripts of conversations recorded by police, which critics say will threaten the freedom of the press. Until now, the Czech media relied regularly on police transcripts to point to connections, for example, in organised crime. It is the second time the lower house has passed the amendment, after it was rejected by the Senate. Other parts of the law deal with protecting the identities of victims of violent crimes. The amendment must still be signed by the president before coming into effect.
The Odien financial group, which owns the Čedok travel agency in the Czech Republic, has expressed an interest in buying the national carrier, ČSA. Others interested in the Czech national airline include Aeroflot and Travel service. The Finance Ministry announced the official tender on the carrier on Thursday. The Czech government is hoping to sell its 91-percent stake in the airliner for 5 billion crowns, or more than 260 million US dollars.
Czech politicians on Friday strongly criticised a proposal by French President Nicolas Sarkozy to “re-localise” French carmakers' foreign units to France, an apparent aim to boost domestic employment in the current economic downturn. The French president made the comment on Thursday on French TV, referring directly to the Czech Republic, where PSA Peugeot Citroen has a joint venture with Toyota, building cars for the export market. On Friday, Czech Industry and Trade Minister Martin Říman said he did not believe the carmaker would relocate. He called Mr Sarkozy’s statement “dangerous” citing it as evidence that “protectionism [was] gaining strength in Europe”. Others, such as shadow trade minister Milan Urban, also criticised the French president.
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