Czech President Vaclav Havel is in Washington at the start of the jubilee summit conference of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. Upon his departure from Prague on Thursday, he emphasised the working character of the meeting, which was originally planned to celebrate the 50th anniversary of NATO.
But our correspondent says that pomp and circumstance will give way to practical problems when the summit kicks off on Friday. Chief among them is the effort to find a way out from the crisis in Kosovo.
But as Havel stressed in an interview on the tarmac of Prague's international airport, other outstanding issues which the alliance is facing should not be ignored either.
President Havel is accompanied on his visit by Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan, Defence Minister Vladimir Vetchy, and Army Chief of Staff Jiri Sedivy.
The formal part of NATO's Washington summit is to be attended also by Czech Lower House Speaker Vaclav Klaus, who has been critical of NATO's air strikes against Yugoslavia. But Mr Klaus is not a member of the official Czech delegation.
The Czech Republic, together with Hungary and Poland, were formally admitted to the alliance only last month.
Meanwhile, NATO is expected to decide next week which Czech airports will possibly be used for technical landings of its refuelling planes, participating in the action against Yugoslavia.
Defence Ministry sources in Prague have said that U.S. experts will by then complete an inspection of selected airfields in Europe.
The experts have visited two Czech airports ' Prague International and the civilian airport at Mosnov, which serves the North Moravian city of Ostrava. Both airfields have runways longer than three kilometres.
NATO and security in Central Europe is the keynote of an international conference here in Prague.
Opening on Friday, the meeting brings together diplomats, politicians and analysts from around the world.
A radical group, calling itself the Socialist Youth Action Against NATO, has demanded their country's immediate withdrawal from the Western alliance, preventing the Czech army from taking part in NATO operations in the Balkans, and the abolition of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.
The group, formed by the Communist Union of Youth, said on Thursday it was going to send a petition to the government and parliament.
The young Communists have called on Czech conscripts to disobey orders relating to NATO, to refuse to take their military oath, and to form democratic cells in their army units.
The Czech Adventist charity organisation ADRA on Thursday sent further humanitarian aid to Kosovo Albanian refugees.
Two trucks despatched from Prague are carrying 22 tonnes of food and hygiene packets, together with medicines, clothing and detergent. The shipment is destined for Montenegro, where it will be handed over to the Main Commissioner for Refugees Djordje Scepanovic.
The Czech Helsinki Committee a prestigious human rights watch group has criticised the country's police for its alleged lack of skills and professionalism.
In its report on the human rights situation in the Czech Republic, released on Thursday, the group alleged that the Czech police, apart from isolated cases of brutal handling of detainees, was often reported last year to indulge in routine procedures rather than looking for ways to improve its performance.
This year's report the fifth in succession cites such traditional shortcomings in police work as problems related to granting Czech citizenship, problems of the country's Roma ethnic community, conditions in Czech prisons, and problems associated with the registered partnership of gays and lesbians.
The Czech Helsinki Committee is a non-governmental organisation, and is a member of the International Helsinki Federation, the guardian of human rights under the Helsinki accords.
The Czech Government's Nationalities Council said on Thursday that the county's record on the observance of ethnic community rights lagged significantly behind the norms prescribed by the European framework agreement on protection of minority rights.
The government's human rights envoy Petr Uhl told correspondents that the Czech Republic had failed thus far to ensure a broader participation of members of ethnic groups in the management of public affairs.
The council's report cited various barriers which it said were preventing the ethnic groups from developing their cultural heritage, traditions and languages. It specifically mentioned the Roma community, which it said was being denied education in their native tongue.
According to Uhl, solving ethnic problems is a necessary condition for the Czech Republic being admitted into the Council of Europe a stepping stone for the country's future membership of the European Union.
Czech customs officers said on Thursday they have seized a major haul of spare parts for military aircraft about to leave Czech territory illegally.
Customs Spokesperson Nina Psotova told correspondents that the shipment, despatched from the Air Electra Engineering firm, had been destined for Cuba. The company's director Jan Kramar confirmed the seizure but denied it was a military shipment.
The customs officials refused to disclose details about their operation, citing sensitivity of the issue. But according to the firm's director, the 705-kilogram shipment contained only parts for civilian planes.
The Czech Republic's foreign trade balance last month ended with a deficit of 11.6 billion crowns an almost four-billion-crown increase on the comparable period of last year.
The Czech Statistical Office said on Thursday that that while last month's year- on-year imports rose by eight percent, the export increased by only just above four percent.
And finally, a quick look at the weather. Friday's daytime temperatures will be from 13 to 17 degrees Celsius, but we are expecting a fairly wet day.
On Saturday and Sunday, we expect cloudy skies, some scattered showers, night-time lows between four and 10 Celsius, daytime highs between 15 and 19 degrees.
I am Libor Kubik and that's the end of the news.
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