The Czech President, Vaclav Havel, has praised MP Ivan Pilip and former student leader Jan Bubenik for supporting democracy and human rights in Cuba, a day after they returned to Prague following three weeks in a Cuban prison. President Havel received the two men at Prague Castle, following their overnight return from Havana. The two were detained on charges of undermining the Cuban regime after they handed over materials to Cuban dissidents in a secret meeting on January 12th. They were released after signing a confession in which they admitted to violating Cuban law. President Havel said their release was primarily due to efforts by the chairman of the Czech Senate, Petr Pithart, who held several hours of talks in Havana at the weekend with the Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
Mr Pilip told reporters on Tuesday that the operations of the U.S.-based organisation Freedom House, which was involved in sending the two to Cuba, had been seriously jeopardised by the affair. He said the organisation had contacted him two years ago, and that last month's fateful visit was not his first to the island. Mr Pilip said it would now be highly difficult for Freedom House to recruit volunteers to travel to Cuba, an outcome which he said was one of the aims of the Cuban authorities when they arrested him.
Meanwhile the leader of the Czech lower house, Vaclav Klaus, has apologised to the upper house chairman Petr Pithart, after criticising his efforts to secure the two men's release. Mr Klaus had said in a statement released on Monday, 24 hours before the men were set free, that Mr Pithart's week-long mission to Cuba had been a failure. His words were heavily criticised by Mr Pilip's Freedom Union party and the Czech media. Mr Pithart has accepted his apology.
The Czech Republic said on Wednesday that it would rethink its plans to re-impose visas for Canadian citizens, if Ottawa changes its mind and scraps visas for Czechs. Prague announced last week that it had decided to re-impose visas for Canadians, after talks on a visa-free regime between the two countries broke down. The offer came in a statement on Wednesday from the Czech Foreign Ministry. Ottawa re-imposed visas for Czechs in 1997, after several hundred members of the Roma minority fled to Canada claiming refugee status. Prague has been asked by the European Union and other bodies to improve the situation of Czech Roma.
Austrian border police have arrested a 28-year-old Czech man on suspicion of smuggling illegal immigrants across the border into Austria. The man was detained on Tuesday near the town of Gmund, after allegedly taking four Indian and Bangladeshi citizens across the border. The man has reportedly admitted to smuggling dozens of immigrants into Austria on previous occasions.
The Slovak Mountain Rescue Service has said a Czech mountaineer died early on Wednesday morning in an accident in Slovakia's High Tatra mountains. The man had been attempting to descend a slope with a colleague when a safety harness broke. The second man survived the accident and was taken to hospital suffering from severe exposure.
And finally, the weather forecast. We're expecting more unseasonably warm weather on Thursday, with partially clear skies and daytime temperatures reaching 12 degrees Celsius in places. Friday will cloudy with rain in some parts of the country.
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