President Vaclav Havel will officially appoint Jiri Rusnok as the Czech Republic's new Finance Minister on Friday, three days after the sudden resignation of Pavel Mertlik. Mr Mertlik has described his successor, currently deputy Labour and Social Affairs Minister, as the best possible candidate he could have hoped for, saying he represented continuity for the ministry. President Havel has expressed his regret that Mr Mertlik was leaving the cabinet, but said he understood the reasons for his departure. Pavel Mertlik quit the post on Tuesday saying he was frustrated by his failure to convince the cabinet to adopt his privatisation and budget proposals, a reference to frequent clashes with the Trade and Industry Minister Miroslav Gregr.
The head of the country's most successful private TV station, TV Nova, has been charged with fraud offences. After 10 hours of questioning on Thursday TV Nova chief Vladimir Zelezny was charged with damaging the interests of a creditor. No further details were given about the charges, but he faces up to eight years in prison if found guilty. Earlier a court in Prague froze the 12 percent stake Mr Zelezny holds in Nova's operating company, in connection with an old tax debt of more than 50 million Czech crowns, or around 1.3 million U.S. dollars. Mr Zelezny was recently ordered by an international court of arbitration to pay more than 27 million dollars in compensation to the U.S. company CME, which helped launch TV Nova in the early 1990s. Mr Zelezny was sued by CME after reneging on a business deal.
Police say they are investigating five people in connection with Saturday's neo-Nazi concert in a village on the outskirts of Prague. A police spokesman said the five were suspected of violating laws against racial hatred. The announcement came after a week of condemnation of the Czech police by politicians and the media, who accused them of turning a blind eye to neo-Nazi behaviour. The concert was attended by roughly four hundred far-right skinheads from the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and Germany. Police made no arrests, despite displays of the Nazi salute and the shouting of Nazi slogans. The head of the Czech police force, Jiri Kolar, said on Thursday that the problem of far-right extremism in the country could not be tackled by the police alone, and called on schools and families to do more.
The deputy leader of the opposition Christian Democrats, Miroslav Kalousek, has resigned amid claims by his colleagues that he was under suspicion of criminal offences. Mr Kalousek again denied all accusations against him and ordered fellow Christian Democrat Cyril Svoboda and another colleague to apologise immediately for making the remarks. Mr Kalousek also resigned from his posts in the opposition Four-Party Coalition, of which the Christian Democrats is the largest party. Mr Cyril Svoboda resigned as leader of the Four-Party Coalition two weeks ago, after clashing with his Christian Democrat colleagues over their choice of Mr Kalousek for the Coalition's shadow cabinet.
Mexico has said it is concerned about Cuba's record on human rights, but will abstain from a Czech-sponsored human rights motion censuring Havana for alleged rights violations. Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda told the newspaper Reforma that Mexico would not support the Czech-sponsored draft at a United Nations human rights session in Switzerland next week, saying the draft was politically motivated and contained double standards. The Czech Republic is submitting another censure at a U.N. human rights forum in Geneva, which criticises Cuba for human rights abuses but describes U.S. sanctions against Havana as counter-productive.
The chairman of the Senate's Foreign Affairs Committee, Michael Zantovsky, has said the Czech Republic should not send observers to the forthcoming presidential elections in Belarus, as there was no guarantee they would be democratic. Speaking after a meeting on Thursday with the Belarussian ambassador, Uladzimir Belsky, Mr Zantovsky said there had been no improvement in the situation in Belarus since last year's parliamentary elections. He added the Belarussian government, led by authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko, had ignored calls to improve human rights and democracy in the country.
And finally, a quick look at the weather forecast. Easter Weekend will be unseasonably chilly - with overcast skies and snow in some parts of the country. Friday night will see temperatures falling to as low as -4 degrees Celsius, while temperatures on Saturday won't rise above 5 degrees Celsius.
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