The number of foreigners seeking asylum in the Czech Republic has increased by over a third, according to statistics released by the Interior Ministry on Friday. Last year, 11,396 foreigners applied for asylum; 34% more than in 2002. Deputy Interior Minister Miloslav Koudelny added that compared to the year before, twice as many applications have been approved in 2003, most of which came from Chechen refugees.
Also on Friday, Tomas Haisman, head of the Interior Ministry's Department for Asylum and Migration Policy rejected accusations that the Czech authorities who process applications for asylum have adopted a negative approach to requests from Chechens. Mr Haisman was reacting to a Monday protest in front of the Interior Ministry in Prague, at which a group of activists opposed a decision to stop processing applications from sixty Chechens. He said, the decision was made after the refugees had attempted to illegally cross the border into Austria. Mr Haisman stressed that the authorities always process applications objectively, despite knowing that many Chechen asylum seekers consider the Czech Republic as a transit country.
Czech President Vaclav Klaus and Russian Ambassador Igor Savolsky met at the presidential retreat at Lany on Friday. Mr Savolsky, who has been representing his country in the Czech Republic for three years, is expected to leave his post early this year. He has been meeting with senior Czech politicians this week to discuss Czech-Russian relations before his departure. Both President Klaus and Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla, with whom Mr Savolsky met on Thursday, agree that economic and political bilateral relations are at their best since the fall of Communism. Mr Savolsky's most likely successor is Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexej Fedotov.
Vaclav Fischer, the founder of one of the country's most successful travel agencies, has said he would resign from its board of directors. The Fischer travel agency, suffered serious financial problems last summer. At the end of last year, the Czech company K&K Capital Group gained majority ownership. Mr Fischer leaves his travel empire after 14 years in the business.
Czech javelin thrower Jan Zelezny is hoping to become a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), according to Czech Olympic Committee spokesman Zdenek Sestak. In 1996, Jan Zelezny had been a member of a commission of athletes that were also members of the IOC but resigned from the post in December 2001, saying he wanted to fully devote himself to his career as an athlete. Should Mr Zelezny be successful, he would be the only Czech representative in the IOC, a body which makes important decisions regarding the Olympic Games, including where it should be held. Vera Caslavska, a Czech Olympic medallist from the late 1960s and early 1970s, withdrew from the IOC for health reasons two years ago.
Saturday has been forecast with occasional snow throughout the country and day-time temperatures reaching a maximum of five degrees Celsius.
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