News

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Government approves memorandum on lifting US visas

The Czech government has approved a draft memorandum on lifting the visa requirement for Czechs travelling to the United States. Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek is expected to sign the document during his visit to the United States, which starts on Monday evening. The memorandum between the Czech government and the US Department of Homeland Security is likely to result in the abolition of tourist visas for Czech citizens before the end of 2008.

The daily Hospodářské Noviny reported on Monday that the Czech Republic will have to hand detailed data on its passengers to the US authorities in exchange for inclusion in the US visa-waiver programme. Czech Interior Minister Ivan Langer has denied the allegations, but declined to disclose the details of the text.

Prime Minister Topolánek: talks with US on radar to close this week

The negotiations about a US radar base stationed on Czech territory will be completed in Washington this week, Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek told the AP news agency, ahead of his departure for a working visit to the United States on Monday. “We have reached a stage where we are able to complete the talks during my visit to America,” Mr Topolánek said. The opposition Social Democrats and Communists have criticised his words. According to the Communist chairman Vojtěch Filip he doesn’t have the mandate to negotiate, since the majority of Czechs are against the radar.

Czechs commemorate Communist coup of 1948

Several events are taking place across the Czech Republic on Monday to mark the 60th anniversary of the Communist coup of 1948. President Václav Klaus and the head of the Association of Political Prisoners Naděžda Kavalírová are due to attend a gathering at Prague Castle on Monday evening. A memorial event has been held at the Czech Senate, while an academic conference on the subject is being opened by the Czech prime minister, Mirek Topolánek. On February 25 1948 the Communists seized power in post-war Czechoslovakia in a bloodless coup. In the period of Communist rule from 1948 to 1989, over 262,000 political prisoners were jailed or sent to labour camps, where thousands perished. A further 241 people were executed, having been found guilty of performing ‘anti-communist acts’.

Some 200 communists have demonstrated against government

Some 200 Communist supporters demonstrated against the centre-right coalition government in the centre of Prague on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the communist coup in 1948. The demonstrators carried flags with the portraits of Karl Marx, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin and first Czechoslovak communist president Klement Gottwald as well as banners expressing their disagreement with the government’s policy.

Irglova and Hansard take Oscar for best song

The Czech musician Markéta Irglová and her Irish partner Glen Hansard have won an Academy Award for best original song for Falling Slowly from the low-budget film Once, in which both starred. There was loud cheering at the Oscars ceremony in Los Angeles, when Irglová, collecting the award, told the audience that the song’s success was “proof that no matter how far out your dreams are, it’s possible”. Hers was not the only Czech success at the 80th Oscars ceremony: The Counterfeiters, based on a book by 90-year-old Prague resident Adolf Burger, took the award for best foreign language film.

Plzeň not to oppose neo-Nazi march

The Town Hall in Plzeň will not try to prevent the neo-Nazi march scheduled to take place on March 1 from being held but it will provide extensive security measures. The authorities in Plzeň had banned a previous march planned for January 19, arguing that it was organized in protest of restrictions of freedom of speech. The organizers, with links to Czech neo-Nazi movement, contested the ban at a court which said Plzeň City Hall did not have the right to ban it. The City Hall then complained about the verdict at the Supreme Administrative Court which has confirmed the ruling. The City Hall wants to lodge an appeal at the Constitutional Court.

ČNB governor Zdeněk Tůma nominated for EBRD president

The governor of the Czech National Bank Zdeněk Tůma was nominated by the government for the post of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. EU finance ministers will discuss the nomination in March, Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek said. The second consecutive four-year term of the current president Jean Lemierre will expire in July. The Czech Republic is the first of the post-communist states to have stopped drawing money from the EBRD last October. It has remained in the bank as a shareholder and co-finances projects in third markets.

Czechs fail to implement EU directives on time, face fines

The Czech Republic has not been implementing EU directives into its statute books on time and may face court proceedings and fines by the European Commission, the daily Právo reported. The Czech Republic, which is reportedly lagging behind all other EU countries in this respect, has yet to implement 55 directives on the EU internal market. The country has been having trouble meeting the deadlines for several years, with the biggest delay in health care. The Finance Ministry has dismissed the criticism, claiming that the Czech Republic is no worse than most other EU countries in this regard.

Former health minister acquitted of charges in Diag Human case

Prague District Court has acquitted former health minister Marie Součková of charges of breach of trust and abuse of public office. Ms Součková was prosecuted for signing a contract between the Health Ministry and lawyer Zdeněk Nováček which concerned legal aid in the state's dispute with the Diag Human company. The contract was allegedly disadvantageous for the state. It promised Mr Nováček 10 million crowns for representing the state and another 170 million if he won the case. Ms Součková faced up to ten years in prison.

German Roman Catholic order not to get back Moravia’s Bouzov castle

A German religious order has failed in a bid to win control of the Bouzov Castle in Moravia. The Czech Constitutional Court rejected the group’s appeal against a previous court ruling, saying there was no evidence that the German Order – a Roman Catholic religious order – was a legal successor to the Order of Teutonic Knights, which owned the castle before the war. Bouzov Castle - first mentioned in records dating back to the 14th century - is one of the best known tourist sites in the Olomouc region.

Weather

The next few days are expected to remain unusually warm, with temperatures reaching between 11 to 16 degrees Celsius. Clear skies will be replaced by rain.