Presidents from at least six countries are expected to attend a two-day conference about the European Union’s Eastern Partnership. The event taking place in Prague on April 24 and 25 should be attended by the presidents of Austria, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Georgia, and Armenia, President Miloš Zeman’s spokesman said on Monday. Participation of Ukraine’s acting president is not certain at the moment. The meeting is likely to focus on Ukraine with continued tension in the country increasing the importance of the EU’s initiative to strengthen links with countries from the former Soviet Union, commented the president’s foreign affairs expert, Hynek Kmoníč. It would be for the meeting to lay out firmer guidelines, he added. Czech EU Commissioner responsible for enlargement and the eastern partnership dossier, Štefan Füle, will be attending the meeting but other top EU leaders are staying away from it, according to media reports.
Member of the Czech upper house, the Senate, and mayor of Přerov, Jiří Lajtoch, has been charged with corruption in connection with tenders carried out by the city. Social Democrat Lajtoch, as well as four other members of the town council’s executive, face charges, the regional prosecutor told the Czech News Agency. They are in connection with reconstruction work carried out on the town’s ice hockey stadium and construction of a new old people’s home. Work on both projects ended up much more expensive than originally budgeted for and the extra work was given to the original contractor without a new tender. Police have attempted three times before to bring the case to court but the charges were dismissed beforehand. Lajtoch and those facing charges with him say they are innocent.
Polish oil giant PKN Orlen is negotiating to buy out Italian refinery company ENI’s 32.4 percent in Czech petro-chemical group Unipetrol, the news agency Reuters reported on Monday citing Czech Minister of Industry and Trade, Jan Mládek. PKN Orlen already has an almost 63 percent stake in Unipetrol, which controls the Czech Republic’s biggest refinery company, Česká Rafinérská. Last week the business daily Hospodářské Noviny said PKN Orlen was also looking to take over state-owned oil pipeline company MERO and fuel and petrol station owner Čepro.
A former chief of the Communist era secret police, (StB) testified in court on Monday that minister of finance Andrej Babiš was not recruited as an agent in the 1980’s. Július Šuman was giving evidence in the minister’s attempts to disprove material released from Slovak archives suggesting he was recruited under the codename Bureš. The former police officer said that a reported meeting at a Bratislava restaurant where Bureš was said to have been recruited never took place. Babiš has taken out a libel action against the Slovak Nation’s Memory Institute, which stores the country’s secret police archives. A verdict in the case was not expected Monday.
Czech president Miloš Zeman believes that Ukrainian authorities should negotiate with representative of the Russian speaking population in the east of the country to avoid widespread violence and lay the foundations for stability in the country. Groups calling for parts of the country to be ceded to Russia have occupied key buildings in several towns and cities with an ultimatum running out on Monday for them to leave. At least two people have been killed in the latest clashes. President’s Zeman’s opinions were communicated by his spokesman, Jiří Ovčaček, in a news briefing on Monday.
NATO should take steps such as deploying forces to the Baltic States and Romania and stepping up the naval presence in the Black Sea to signal the alliance’s concern about further Russian intervention in Ukraine and signal that it was unacceptable, according to the Czech head of state. His spokesman Jiří Ovčaček said some media had misinterpreted the president’s previous comments as calling for NATO military intervention in Ukraine to counter any new moves by Russia there. That was not the case but at the same time the example of the Soviet-led invasion of then Czechoslovakia should not be forgotten, the spokesman said.
Newly appointed Czech Police President Tomáš Tuhý said one of his main priorities will be to stabilize the police force after a period of change and uncertainty at the top in recent years. He said the police force would deal uncompromisingly with extremist groups on both right and left and violence at sports events. He added in a news conference Monday that his priorities will include the fight against drug abuse, tax fraud, and serious economic crime. Tuhý is expected to establish his top team within a month. Minister of the Interior Milan Chovanec said that one of the police president’s tasks will the creation of a special police unit, Kobra, to combat tax evasion.
Czech writer Jaroslav Rudiš has been awarded the Usedom literary prize for his contribution to European dialogue. He becomes the fourth winner of the prize, named after the Baltic island divided between Germany and Poland, and the second Czech to be awarded it. The jury in particular picked out Rudiš’ graphic novel Alois Nebel, which later was made into an award winner film. The prize money comes to 5000 euros together with a month’s free stay on the island.
The Czech Republic is in for cold weather in the coming days, with a cold front across the Central Europe causing morning temperatures to fall below zero. Forecasters say it may snow even in low-lying parts of the country. It should get warmer again from Thursday with temperatures of 15 to 20 degrees Celsius expected by Easter weekend.
Testimony will continue on Monday in a court case the finance minister of the Czech Republic, Andrej Babiš, has taken in an attempt to refute allegations he collaborated with the StB secret police in the communist era. Mr. Babiš has taken a libel case against the Nation’s Memory Institute in his native Slovakia, whose files list him as an StB agent. The politician and billionaire businessman denies the allegation. Two former StB agents are due in court in Bratislava but a verdict is not expected today.
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