News

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PM Topolánek to decorate exile anticommunist fighter

Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek decorated Josef and Ctirad Mašín, the controversial anti-communist resistance fighters, at the Czech embassy in Washington, D.C. on Thursday. The Mašín brothers, together with another young man Milan Paumer, formed a resistance group in communist Czechoslovakia in the early 1950s. During their escape to the West in 1953, they killed five police officers and a cashier. Mr Topolánek said that after he returns to Prague, he would present the same award to Mr Paumer as well.

The Mašín brothers, who live in the United States, and Mr Paumer have been repeatedly proposed for the highest Czech decorations but Czech politicians have been divided on the issue.

Communist Party leader Vojtěch Filip has condemned PM Topolánek’s initiative saying that the three fighters were murderers, and a lawsuit against Mr Topolánek was filed on Thursday for “approving murder and armed assault”.

President Bush: Czech-U.S. agreement on radar is very close

U.S. President George W. Bush said on Wednesday that his country was “very close” to signing an agreement with the Czech Republic on building g an American radar base in central Bohemia. Mr Bush’s remarks came after a meeting with Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek in Washington. Mr Topolánek said that only minor details needed to be sorted out and that negotiations on the issue would be concluded very shortly. Both President Bush and Prime Minister Topolánek rejected Moscow’s claims that the U.S. anti-missile shield in Central Europe was to be used against Russia. Mr Bush said that the system was meant to address potential threats coming from countries run by extremist ideologies.

For his part, Prime Minister Topolánek said that Czech-U.S. relations would be elevated to the level of ‘strategic dialogue’, similar to that between the United States and Great Britain. This will involve the exchange of sensitive information as well as regular meetings of the countries’ top officials and expert teams.

EU criticizes Czech-U.S. visa deal

EU officials have criticized the Czech-U.S. memorandum of understanding that paves the way for the inclusion of the Czech Republic in the U.S. visa-waiver programme. Citing European Commission sources, the Brussels-based daily Europolitics reported on Thursday that the bilateral Czech-American deal might “scupper” the current agreement between the United States and the old EU member states on data transfers concerning passengers travelling to the U.S. by air. Slovenian Interior Minister Dragutin Mate, whose country currently presides over the European Union, said that most EU countries want to negotiate visa agreements with the United States under a common strategy. Czech Interior Minister Ivan Langer rejected the criticism saying that the Czech-U.S. memorandum is in line with EU legislation. Mr Langer also pointed out that the Czech Republic had been waiting for four years for the EU to take action leading to the abolishing of U.S. visas for the new EU countries, and only then did the Czechs start negotiating with the Bush administration.

President Klaus to visit Serbia

President Václav Klaus will visit Serbia within the next six weeks. During one of his first trips abroad after re-election, Mr Klaus will meet with his Serbian counterpart Boris Tadič. Earlier this month, President Klaus rejected Kosovo’s declaration of independence. The Czech government has not yet recognized independent Kosovo but a foreign ministry spokesperson said on Thursday that Mr Klaus’ visit to Belgrade is in line with Czech foreign policy towards the Balkan country which is based on long-standing good relations.

Former president Havel criticizes lack of change in Cuba

Former Czech president Václav Havel has criticized a lack of real change in Cuba following Fidel’s Castro resignation. In a letter published by the Prague-based International Committee for Democracy in Cuba, Mr Havel and former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar regretted that the stepping down of Castro was not meant to install democracy but to perpetuate tyranny. The Czech Republic has traditionally been very active within the European Union in promoting freedom and democracy in Cuba.

Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg undergoes operation

Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg underwent a planned operation and his health is stable, a foreign ministry spokesperson said on Thursday. Mr Schwarzenberg was hospitalized on Sunday with heart problems and high blood pressure; no details were given concerning the place of Mr Schwarzenberg’s hospitalisation. Minister Schwarzenberg is expected to remain in hospital for another 10 to 14 days.

Retirement pensions to rise in August

Labour and Social Affairs Minister Petr Nečas said retirement pensions in the Czech Republic would rise by 5.1 percent in August this year; average pension will increase by almost 500 crowns, or more than 30 U.S. dollars. The extraordinary increase of retirement pensions is due to the high inflation in the Czech Republic which in January reached 7.5 percent year-on-year.

Architect Kaplický sets ultimatum for Prague

Czech-born London-based architect Jan Kaplický, the author of the winning design for a new National Library building in Prague, has given city officials one month to come to a decision on whether the new building can be constructed in Prague. Mr Kaplický said that if Prague City Hall fails to reach a solution, he will quit the project for good. Jan Kaplický’s winning design, popularly known as the Blob and the Octopus, had met with little appreciation from some Prague officials – including the mayor, Pavel Bém. They claimed it would disturb the city’s skyline. There has also been a petition of architects, monument preservationists and art historians in support of the project.

Czech beer production up in 2007

The production of beer in the Czech Republic rose by 0.5 percent in 2007, the news website ihned.cz reported on Thursday. Czech breweries made 19.9 million hectolitres of beer last year, breaking the record in the production of the ever-more popular non-alcoholic beer brands. Last years also saw an increase in the exports of Czech beer; local brewers shipped 3.6 million hectolitres of beer abroad, which was 3.6 percent more than in the previous year.

Five-year-old driver crashes parents’ car

A five-year-old boy got hold of his parent’s car on Wednesday night in a town in central Bohemia. After driving some 500 metres, he crashed into two other vehicles and a house. The boy then got out of the car and hid in a nearby park where he was discovered by the police. A police spokesperson said the boy was lucky that the impact was not severe and did not active airbags. The police asked local social workers to find out how a five-year-old knew how to drive a car.

Czech national table tennis team advance to World Cup quarterfinals

The Czech national team beat Singapore 3:2 at the World Championship in table tennis in China on Thursday and advances to the quarterfinals. In the last eight the Czechs will face China, the home team and the favourite of the entire event.

Weather

The end of the week is expected to be cloudy with rain showers emerging in the south. Highest day temperatures should reach no more than 10 degrees Celsius.