The opposition Social Democrats have begun a three-day party conference at Prague’s Industrial Palace. 600 delegates are taking part to elect new deputy leaders as well as to re-elect Jiří Paroubek as party head. He faces no challengers. One of the main speakers at the congress on Friday was Czech President Václav Klaus, who accepted for the first time an invitation by the leftist party. His speech was closely-watched, as it came days ahead of a key no-confidence vote on the current government. The president declined to comment the upcoming vote, but suggested that during the period of economic crisis political parties needed to display extra responsibility in the interests of the country.
Party leader Jiří Paroubek, who spoke at the start of the conference, revealed that even if the centre-right government was defeated in Tuesday’s vote, he was in favour of it completing the Czech EU presidency.
Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek has said that problems facing his government on the Czech political scene will not impact his role at the head of the European Council. He made the statement at a press conference on Thursday, following the first day of the EU summit. Mr Topolánek’s minority government is scheduled to face a vote of no-confidence in the Czech Chamber of Deputies on Tuesday. At the EU Summit the prime minister expressed confidence his government would survive, saying the opposition had tried to bring down the government on four previous occasions - and failed.
The Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg has said the EU will closely monitor developments in Madagascar following what he described as a coup d’état there this week. On Tuesday, Andry Rajoelina was named the country’s new president by the military, a move widely-criticised as unconstitutional. Mr Schwarzenberg said late Thursday that the change had not been democratic. Following months of strikes and protest, the former president Marc Ravalomanana, was ousted after he transferred power to the military. The EU, the UN and the African Union have all rejected the development.
The internet news site aktualně has reported that Jiří Weigl, the head of the president’s office, has admitted to lobbying on behalf of President Václav Klaus ahead of last year’s presidential election. He reportedly made the admission when questioned by the state attorney’s office. Last February, Mr Weigl met with influential Social Democrat lobbyist Miroslav Šlouf at Prague’s Savoy hotel; footage of the meeting, captured by a hotel camera, was later leaked to the media (for which the Savoy recently received an 80,000 crown fine). Aktualně reported that Mr Weigl told officials he and Mirsolav Šlouf discussed whether it would be appropriate for a former Klaus rival - former prime minister Miloš Zeman - to publicly back his re-election. Originally, the leaked video footage sparked concerns over shady backroom dealings.
In related news, just this week Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek told Parliament he had proof that last year’s presidential elections were manipulated by people close to the opposition Social Democrats. The matter is to be discussed by the government on Monday.
A new poll by CVVM has suggested that opposition to a planned US anti-missile radar system in the country has grown. Released on Thursday, the poll suggests that those opposed now number 70 percent, up from 65 percent in January. More than 1,100 individuals - aged 15 and older - took part in the poll. The Czech government has signed two treaties with the US on the stationing of its radar base, but it is unclear whether the project will go ahead. It may be put on hold by Washington, pursuing improved relations with Russia. The deal has also not be ratified by the Czech lower house.
Christian Democrat deputy and contender for party leader Michaela Šojdrová was treated in hospital after collapsing in her home on Friday. The news was revealed by Christian Democratic Party leader Jiří Čunek. Originally, details of the incident were not released, casting doubt on whether Mrs Šojdrova would remain in hospital through Tuesday. That would have meant that the country’s minority government would have been even more fragile in the upcoming vote of no confidence. But Mrs Šojdrová has since been released: her collapse was said to be related to stomach problems.
Police have detained a Prague-based Albanian national for running a dentist’s surgery in the capital without a valid work visa. Proceedings have now been launched to have the individual deported. In addition to not having a visa, the dentist was ordered to stop practicing his profession last year, after it was revealed the man was HIV-positive. The former head of the Czech Dentists’ Chamber Jiří Pekárek told Czech news agency ČTK that that alone was not enough to have him banned from his job, as all doctors are required to use safety items such as masks and rubber gloves. In his view, the foreign national must have violated sanitary regulations - potentially putting patients at risk.
The operators of a Czech-language website, entitled eurabia.cz, have announced plans to invite to invite Dutch far-right parliamentarian Geert Wilders to the Czech Republic. Mr Wilders is the author of Fitna - a highly-controversial anti-Islamic film from 2008. An editor for the website said on Friday said only an invitation had been extended but that the site had not yet received an answer. Police in the Netherlands have begun prosecution of Mr Wilders over the film as well as over anti-Islamic statements.
London football club Chelsea – with Czech goalkeeper Petr Čech – has drawn Liverpool in the upcoming quarterfinals of the Champions League. The draw results were announced on Friday. The match-up between the two English clubs is a close one: Chelsea are currently second in the English Premier League, while Liverpool are third. In other draws Friday, Arsenal, with side-lined Czech playmaker Tomáš Rosický, will face off against Spain’s Villareal.
Partly cloudy conditions are expected into the weekend. Daytime temperatures on Saturday should reach highs of around 4 degrees Celsius.
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