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Czechs and Slovaks begin officially celebrating the anniversary of the violent police crackdown on a student protest which led to days of mass demonstrations in 1989 and brought about the end of communism in the country.
Prague and Bratislava will host award ceremonies and gala concerts, along with recreations of student demonstrations and life before 1989. Politicians are set to lay flowers on Wednesday, on central Prague's Narodni Street, where the student protest took place ten years ago and Czechs are preparing to march again with candles recalling the revolution and its slogan "Truth and Love".
President Vaclav Havel will be leading the events. He is a former dissident playwright, who rallied Prague's democrats and became a symbol throughout the west of what was later dubbed the "Velvet Revolution".
On Tuesday evening, Vaclav Havel met with former cold war leaders, who were in some way positively connected with the overthrow of communism in central and eastern Europe. He held talks with former leaders of the U.S., Russia and Poland, George Bush, Mikhail Gorbachev and Lech Walesa. Vaclav Havel also met with the former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. On Wednesday, they will receive the highest state award, the Order of the White Lion from President Havel, for helping to end the cold war and restore democracy to what was then, Czechoslovakia.
During his meeting, with Mikhail Gorbachev, President Havel said that many Czechs are still finding it difficult to adjust to all the advantages and responsibilities of freedom. Gorbachev who introduced reforms at the end of the eighties which helped bring about the demise of communism, said he intends to return to politics.
Former Polish President Lech Walesa, put current European problems down to the fact that Europe is lacking a personality who had similar ideas to former American Secretary of State George Marshall. Walesa also said that the growing preference for the communists in central and eastern Europe is because people have still not realised that today's politicians are dealing with the negative results of the communist legacy.
During his meeting with former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, Vaclav Havel spoke of Germany as being the main driving force behind European Union expansion. Kohl, who always supported European unity, said Slovakia stood an improved chance of entering the European Union.
Former British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher said that after a century of world wars and destructive ideologies, it was time to restore a government of freedom and truth. Havel pointed out that this is not easy for people in post- communist countries today, who have never known a government of this kind. The Czech President held his last meeting with former US President George Bush, but according to a spokesman this was behind closed doors and private.
The Social democrat MP's Club, on Tuesday evening, criticized Premier Milos Zeman's handling of Health Minister Ivan David's political future. Chairman of the Club, Stanislav Gross said the party rejects Zeman's attempts to force Parliament to decide whether or not David should leave. Gross called on Milos Zeman to act and said on behalf of the club, that it was not up to Parliament to make this decision. This comes as right wing opposition parties have, along with members of the ruling Social democrats, urged Milos Zeman to dismiss the minister on grounds of incompetence. Deputy Chairwoman of the party, Petra Buzkova, on Tuesday, also criticized Zeman's passing the responsibility onto Parliament. She said that this would only set a dangerous precedent.
Although the anniversary of the Velvet Revolution, will be the focus of much attention today, there are some Czechs, namely the older generation, who will pay tribute to another anniversary. The 17th November, also marks events which took place in 1939, when the Nazis closed Czech universities, shot several students and sent hundreds to concentration camps. The Czech Freedom fighter's Union, is set to remember the event, by holding a religious service in Prague.
Representatives of corporate Germany and lawyers, acting for tens of thousands of people enslaved by the Nazis during the second world war began talks on Tuesday which immediately plunged into discord. The event, however, saw Berlin lifting its offer of compensation by one billion marks (approximately, 1.6 billion dollars). Negotiators are demanding 12.5 billion marks, but Berlin even with its increased offer is only offering seven.
Germany has been under increasing pressure to pay compensation to those from NAZI occupied areas, who were forced to work in their wartime operations. This issue was also given momentum by the collapse of the Soviet Bloc with many of the victims living behind the iron curtain, suddenly also demanding payment. The Czech delegation attending the talks in Bonn, spent Tuesday looking over classified files of war victims and meeting with German representatives. The head of the Czech delegation, expressed concern on Tuesday, that these discussions will not see any agreement being struck or problems solved. Some critics, have in the past, accused German industry of deliberately delaying payments in the knowledge that many elderly recipients may not live to receive their dues under a future compensation scheme.
The Czech Republic should be able to apply European Union laws on the free movement of people between the borders of the Union, as of January 2003. This comes after the Prague government on Monday approved a document on the issue. A government spokesman also told journalists on Tuesday, that the government intends to ask Brussels for an extra waiting period of time before it becomes possible for non-Czechs to buy land and property in the Czech Republic.
Czech Premier Milos Zeman refused to comment on Tuesday on allegations that he is personally, responsible for the Chemapol sponsoring affair of his Social Democrat party. This comes after a Czech newspaper on Monday printed an article, claiming that according to an anonymous party-based source, Zeman is behind the affair. Four years ago, the Petrol giant Chemapol allegedly gave party members company cards, providing them with free petrol. The paper claims that Zeman negotiated the deal with the head of Chemapol.
According to an opinion poll conducted in October, Czechs feel that Health Minister Ivan David and Deputy Premier Egon Lansky damage the Czech Republic's image the most. This comes as calls for David's resignation mount on all sides of the political spectrum, while Lansky is set to leave office at some point in November. The most positive verdict was given to justice Minister Otakar Motejl and Defense Minister Vladimir Vetchy. The same opinion poll, showed that if elections were to be held now, the largest opposition party, the Civic democrats would come first with the communists in second place and the current governing Social democrat party in third position.
A ridge of low pressure moving over the Czech Republic from the north, means the weather is set to get cooler over the next few days. Wednesday will see temperatures during the day, ranging from 2 to -2 degrees Celsius, with cloudy skies and the possibility of snow. This will continue into the night, with temperatures dropping to as low as -8.
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