News

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Protests against missile shield to greet Bush in Prague

Around a dozen demonstrations against a visit by US President George W. Bush will take place in Prague on Monday and Tuesday, with several of them protesting US plans to extend an anti-missile shield into Central and Eastern Europe. The Prague City Hall says it has been notified of seven anti-Bush demonstrations on Monday and another three on Tuesday. The 'No to Bases' movement says it expects several thousand protesters at its demonstration on Monday outside Prague Castle against US plans to station a tracking radar in the Czech Republic. Young communists are due to demonstrate outside the US embassy also on Monday. On Tuesday, another protest will be staged near the proposed radar site, 70 kilometres south-west of Prague. Municipal officials said one event staged in favour of the radar installation had also been scheduled.

Police force getting ready for Bush visit

Around 1,500 police officers will be mobilised for the US president's visit, according to police headquarters. On Tuesday, major roads in the capital surrounding Prague Castle, a popular tourist spot, will be closed with public transport disrupted. Traffic in and out of Prague airport will also be disrupted for half an hour on Monday evening and on Tuesday afternoon during Air Force One's arrival and departure.

According to recent polls, two-thirds of Czechs are opposed to hosting a US radar base, but, so far, there have been no major demonstrations. During his short visit ahead of the G8 summit in Germany, President Bush is due to meet with Czech President Vaclav Klaus and Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek at Prague Castle.

Another Czech village rejects US radar base in referendum

Most participants in a referendum in the village of Hvozdany rejected the construction of a US radar base in the Czech Brdy military grounds. The referendum was attended by 409 out of the 630 eligible voters, with 381 or 95 percent of them against the plan, Mayor Stanislav Kramosil said. Hvozdany has about 800 residents and is situated some five kilometres from the planned site. There have been a number of local referenda on the plan; all of them have rejected the plan. Results of local referenda are binding neither for the government nor parliament.

The first round of Czech-US talks on the radar base was completed in May. The talks are to last several months. The USA expects the Czechs to give a clear final answer regarding the base after January 1, 2008. Most of the Czech public are still against the plan, while the government, headed by the Civic Democratic Party, advocates it.

Social Democrats criticise government-proposed public finance reform

The leadership of the opposition Social Democrats has criticised the government-proposed package of public finance reforms. It recommended to Social Democrat MPs to file a constitutional complaint against it and not to approve the reform package in an upcoming lower house vote. Social Democrat chairman Jiri Paroubek said at a news conference on Saturday that with their reform plan the ruling coalition was creating a country only for the rich. The first stage of the reforms, approved by the cabinet last week, includes changes to the tax and social welfare systems and introduces fees for certain healthcare services.

Czech police swoop on Latin American drugs smuggling ring

Czech anti-drugs police say they have detained two men at the centre of a Latin American drugs smuggling ring. The two men, one a 24-year old Colombian citizen of Czech origin and his 27-year-old Czech partner, were arrested in the eastern city of Ostrava. Accomplices in Argentina and Peru were also arrested in an operation coordinated with those countries' officials, a spokesman for the National Anti-drugs Brigade said. The raids, which netted a total 21 kilograms of cocaine, followed a seventh-month investigation. Four kilograms were seized in the Czech Republic and tests showed them to be 95 percent pure. Czech police estimated the haul to have a street value of 120 million crowns (5.7 million dollars). The gang also had operations in Spain, the Netherlands, Italy, Venezuela and Colombia. The two ringleaders could face jail sentences of up to 15 years.

J.K. Rowling to open Children's High Level Group branch in Prague

The British author J.K. Rowling is reportedly planning to open a branch of the Children's High Level Group in Prague, a charity which she co-founded two years ago. Ms Rowling discussed the project during her visit to Prague this week with the Czech Centre for the Development of Mental Health Care, the centre's director Barbora Wenigova said.

During her Prague stay Ms Rowling also met unofficially with Minister without portfolio Dzamila Stehlikova, in charge of overseeing human rights. Mrs Stehlikova said that Ms Rowling had expressed regret for her strong criticism during her campaign against caged beds in Czech institutional care. In 2004 Ms Rowling addressed the Czech government on the issue, eventually sparking the removal of such beds from mental hospitals and other institutions. Some relatives and health care workers have since complained about the changes, saying they leave clients - mostly children or the disabled - at greater risk of falling and injuring themselves.

Czech far right activists block Austrian-Czech border crossing

Around a dozen followers of the Czech rightist National Party blocked the Czech-Austrian border crossing Wullowitz-Dolni Dvoriste on Saturday morning, not allowing vehicles with Austrian licence plates to enter the Czech Republic. The nationalists' protest is a reply to the frequent blockades of Czech-Austrian border crossings by Austrian opponents of the Czech Temelin nuclear power plant. The protest had been deliberately timed for Saturday morning when many Austrians drive to the Czech Republic for shopping. The activists said the protest is to highlight what they call "Austria's interference into Czech affairs and the reluctance of the Czech government to take immediate steps". Austrian activists say Temelin, situated some 60 km from the Austrian border, is not safe and that the Czech Republic breaches agreements the two countries signed on the plant.

George Michael cancels concert in Prague

A Prague concert of the British pop singer George Michael scheduled for Saturday night has been cancelled, the organisers have announced. The performance planned for the Prague T-Mobile Arena has been called off due to a serious accident of one of the lorries carrying special stage equipment which happened on the way from Bucharest to Prague. George Michael arrived in Prague on Thursday night to stage his first ever concert in the Czech capital which will now be probably held at an alternative date.

Tennis-Safarova crushes Mauresmo's French Open dreams

Czech tennis player Lucie Safarova beat France's Amelie Mauresmo 6:3 7:6 in a third-round match at the French Open on Saturday. Fifth seed Mauresmo had fallen as the defending champion to the same opponent in the fourth round of this year's Australian Open. World number 29 Safarova, who claimed Justine Henin's scalp in the semi-finals of the Paris Open in February, goes on to meet Russia's Anna Chakvetadze for a place in the quarter-finals.

Weather

The weekend should be partly cloudy with daytime temperatures just over 20 degrees Celsius.