Austria has begun making compensation payments to Eastern Europeans forced to work in Austria as slave labourers in WWII. The Austrian Reconciliation has sent the first payments, totalling some 36 million US dollars, to organisations in Poland, Ukraine and the Czech Republic. The compensation process has been very difficult, and the first payment was only made possible after a US court rejected two lawsuits against Austria that jeopardised the whole process. Thousands of Czechs were forced to work as slave labourers in Austria in WWII. The majority of Austria's slave labourers were of Jewish origin. In total, the Austrian Reconciliation Fund will pay out 382 million US dollars in compensation to 150,000 former slave labourers.
An explosive device has gone off in Prague, injuring one man. According to police officials, the as yet unidentified device blew up in the hands of the man, a foreign national, early on Tuesday morning, not far from the Brazilian embassy. The man, aged thirty five, sustained wounds to his face, legs and left arm. Police officers have so far been unable to interview him, as he had to undergo extensive surgery. No-one else was hurt in the blast.
On a related note, police officials reported that in another, possibly unrelated incident, a small area around the British Council in the centre of Prague was cordoned off on Tuesday following a bomb threat from an unidentified caller. No reason was given for the threat, but there is speculation that this could be related to the presence of British immigration officials at Prague's Ruzyne airport. The officials are there to try to keep down the number of asylum seekers arriving in Britain from the Czech Republic. This measure has been criticised as being discriminatory against the Czech Republic's Roma minority. Hundreds of Romanies have sought political asylum in Britain in the past few years.
Members of Slovakia's Roma community condemned the presence of British immigration officials at Prague's Ruzyne airport on Tuesday as being racist and intolerant. The Slovak Roma Initiative, which represents the country's Roma minority, said the measures were inhuman and aimed at a particular social group. Furthermore, the SRI is convinced that the measures breach basic human rights as laid down in several international agreements, of which Great Britain is a signatory. At a press conference on Tuesday, Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan told journalists that he will produce a report by the end of August into the measures at Ruzyne airport, to find out if British officials have been discriminating against members of the Czech Republic's Roma minority.
Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schussel has criticised a campaign by the far right Freedom Party to block Czech EU accession over the Temelin nuclear power plant. The Chancellor was particularly critical of Jorg Haider, the controversial former head of the Freedom Party, who is still the most powerful man in the party. Mr Haider has repeatedly threatened that Austria will block Czech EU membership if Temelin, which is just fifty kilometres from the Austrian border, is not shut down permanently. Mr Schussel said he was deeply disturbed by these threats, and said that Temelin could be observed more effectively within the EU than outside it.
On a separate note, the government of Upper Austria filed a lawsuit against CEZ, the utility company in charge of Temelin, in the regional court in Linz on Tuesday. The aim of the lawsuit, a spokesman said, was to force CEZ to implement specific safety measures at Temelin. According to an official at CEZ, the plant was built in line with Czech regulations, and the company is not afraid to go to court over the issue.
A fresh opinion poll from the Sofres-Factum research institute places the Four Party Coalition, a grouping of four smaller right-of-centre parties, ahead of the two main political parties, the ruling Social Democrats and the opposition Civic Democrats. The poll puts the coalition in first place with 28 percent, the Social Democrats in second with 25.5 percent, and the Civic Democrats in third with 24.4 percent. The poll also shows that 78 percent of those asked say they would vote in next year's general elections, which a slight increase over recent polls.
And finally, a quick look at the weather forecast. Wednesday in the Czech Republic should see partially cloudy to clear skies. Daytime highs should reach 29 degrees Celsius. Night-time lows on Wednesday could drop to 14 degrees Celsius.
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