A few dozen activists from the Czech ‘No Bases’ organisation staged a protest in the centre of Prague on Thursday morning ahead of the signing of the new nuclear arms limitation deal. Carrying signs in Russian and English, they protested that the scrapping of old and unwanted weapons was not a real move towards disarmament. That required a public process and clear timetable, they said. The ‘No Bases’ movement was in the forefront of opposition to US plans to site an anti-missile defence system in the Czech Republic and Poland. The plans were dropped last year by President Obama. The Czech branch of the World Without War organisation said the new deal still meant around 20,000 nuclear warheads would be held worldwide with spending on armaments growing steadily.
Bilateral talks between the US and Russian president ahead of the signing
were expected to cover possible sanctions against Iran over its nuclear
programme, unrest in the Central Asian state of Kyrgyzstan and US
anti-missile defence, according to White House sources.
The US is seeking an agreement for sanctions against Iran, saying that its nuclear programme is aimed at developing weapons. Iran says it is purely to produce electricity. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Iran had not reacted seriously to proposals to deal with the problem of its nuclear programme and suggested the United Nations could discuss steps to take and new sanctions could not be ruled out.
Kyrgyzstan is the centre of turmoil following moves by the opposition to seize power on Wednesday. The country provides the US with a strategic base for operations in Afghanistan.
US plans for missile defence are still a sensitive issue with Moscow even after President Obama’s decision last year not to proceed with plans for an anti-missile shield in the Czech Republic and Poland. President Obama said missile defence should not affect the strategic balance between the US and Russia. Moscow has said it should be allowed to opt out of the new nuclear arms reduction agreement if the US significantly expands its missile defence network.
Czech-born tennis star Martina Navrátilová has revealed that she has breast cancer. A routine scan in February revealed the cancer in its early stages with her prospects of recovering considered excellent. Navrátilová, who took up US citizenship, decided to publicize her problem as a warning to other women to get regular scans. She admitted that she was fortunate in discovering the cancer early after failing to go for check ups for several years. The 53 year old tennis legend won the singles Wimbledon title nine times among the series of grand slam titles she collected during a long career at the top.
Workers at the Czech Republic’s biggest car maker, Škoda Auto, have accepted the latest pay offer from the company according to a union website. The company’s offer was for a 2.7 percent pay rise to take effect immediately from April. It would include a one off payment of 10,000 crowns. A previous offer was for a 2.5 percent rise was turned down, according to a union newspaper. The current agreement expires on April 12. Unions had warned that were prepared to take action if no deal was found. The car maker’s profit fell by two-thirds last year in spite of record sales. It is one of the biggest employers in the country with around 25,000 workers.
Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kohout said he expected a new anti-missile defence shield in Europe to be a NATO project with Russia invited to take part. His comments came following a longer than expected meeting on Thursday with his US counterpart Hilary Clinton. Mr. Kohout said the Czech Republic was interested in taking part in an anti-missile shield but would have to wait for a new government following elections at the end for a clear stance on how this could happen. He added that it was important for Prague that NATO gave priority to the project. The two foreign ministers also discussed Czech involvement in Afghanistan and the chances of increasing the existing Czech contingent by another 55 from the current 535. That increase has not so far been cleared by parliament.
US President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed a
new nuclear arms reduction treaty in Prague Castle shortly after noon on
Thursday. The treaty should replace the 1991 START treaty which expired in
December. It commits both sides to cutting by around 30 percent the number
of their nuclear warheads compared with a total agreed in 2002.
President Obama described the agreement as ‘historic,’ adding that it had stopped the drift in US-Russian relations. He said it would help to make the world safe and secure. President Medvedev said the deal marked a ‘new page’ in bilateral ties. The agreement has to be ratified by the US Senate and the Russian Parliament. President Obama said he would press for ratification this year.
Thursday’s signing comes almost exactly a year after President Obama outlined his policies on nuclear weapons in a speech in front of thousands of people at Prague Castle.
Zoologists from the Czech Republic, Sri Lanka and Australia have come to the conclusion that there are six types of rhino in the world, one more than previously thought. The expert team believes that the Northern White Rhino should be treated as a separate type, one of their number, Jan Robovský from the natural science faculty at the South Bohemian University, told the Czech Press Agency. He said there were so many differences with the type it used to be included with that it deserved to be set apart. Only around eight such Northern Whites are believed to exit in the world. Four were shipped out from a Czech zoo at the end of last year to a Kenya reservation in the hope they could be encouraged to breed.
The Ministry of Culture has launched a project that is seeking to revitalize Jewish culture in the Czech Republic. Over the next three years, 280 million crowns will be invested in the repair of 15 Jewish monuments across the country. The project, which was presented on Wednesday, also aims at opening new Jewish cultural centers. The ministry cited increasing coordination between different Jewish cultural institutions across the country and presenting the Czech Republic’s Jewish heritage as the main goal of the project.
The Ministry of Trade and Industry has put forward a proposal aimed at cutting prices of high-speed internet connections in the Czech Republic. As part of an initiative to bring the internet to more households, the ministry is seeking to lower the value added tax rate on high speed connections from the current 20 percent to 15 percent over the next five years. The proposal, which was announced on Wednesday, would need to be approved by the Ministry of Finance. Opponents of the measure say it would increase the state budget deficit. Roughly half of all Czech households have web connections.
In Prague and other locations in the Czech Republic, police have started enforcing strict security measures in preparation for the visit of the US and Russian presidents. The Hilton and Four Seasons hotels, where Barrack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev will be staying, will be the most closely guarded locations in the capital. Police and security experts are also inspecting relatively busy parts of the city, along with potential high risk spots such as bridges and tunnels. In the capital, 1500 police officers were on duty on Wednesday, with roughly 5000 expected to be working until the presidents have left. Outside of Prague, the police are also intensively patrolling motorways that lead to the capital for suspicious vehicles.
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