News

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Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek elected leader of Social Democrats

Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek has been elected chairman of the Social Democratic Party at a special congress held Saturday. 479 of 521 party members, or ninety-two percent of the party delegates voted for Paroubek to replace Bohuslav Sobotka, who was the Social Democratic Party's provisional chairman after the resignation of former Prime Minister Stanislav Gross last year. Jiri Paroubek admitted that his election is in large part a public declaration of the Social Democratic Party's unity before the upcoming elections. Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek declared that his immediate goal now is to win the June elections and prevent a possible coalition of Civic Democrats, Christian Democrats and the Green Party.

Social Democratic Party delegates also voted for Zdenek Skromach to be the new vice-chairman of the party. Eighty-nine percent of delegates voted for Skromach, who ran with the support of Prime Minister Paroubek and was the only candidate for the position of vice-chairman.

Social Democrats vow not to form a coalition with the Communists

Reacting to demonstrators outside of the hotel where the Social Democratic Party congress was held, delegates voted in favour of a proposal that states the Social Democrats can not enter into a coalition with the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia following the June elections. Meanwhile, the leader of the Communist Party, Vojtech Filip, says that the communists are counting on silently supporting a minority Social Democratic government.

Social Democrats want to increase party membership

Speaking after his election as party chairman, Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek wants to attract young people to join the ranks of the Social Democratic Party and raise the party's membership count to 40 000. Currently, Social Democratic Party members number about 17 000, with nearly 42 percent of these over the age of 50.

Czech Republic wants into the Schengen zone in 2007

Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda has said that the Czech Republic wants to join the Schengen Zone in October 2007. Yet, according to Svoboda this time-line will depend much on the preparations of neighbouring countries because the Czech Republic does not face the problem of securing a new Schengen border, as does Poland in relation to Belarus and the Slovak Republic in relation to Ukraine. Membership in the Schengen zone allows for the free movement of people; currently thirteen EU countries belong to the Schengen agreement, which excludes the United Kingdom and Ireland.

Roma gather to remember victims of Lety

On Saturday, roughly seventy members of the Roma community gathered in Lety near Pisek, the site of a WWII concentration camp where 326 Roma died, to remember the victims. Survivors of the camp and their families were present, and representatives from the Slovak and German embassies placed wreaths at the monument to the victims of the Roma Holocaust. President Vaclav Klaus also sent a memorial wreath.

A controversial pig farm which occupies part of the land of the former WWII camp is expected to be dealt with following the June elections.

Defence Minister praises soldiers back from Afghanistan

Defence Minister Karel Kuenhl has praised work by members of the military recently back from missions in Afghanistan. On Friday the minister awarded military decorations to members of units in Prostejov and Bechyne: members of a sapper unit serving at the international airport in Kabul, and a reconnaissance and information-gathering unit serving in the north-east of the country monitoring local developments. Minister Kuenhl said that the soldiers had contributed to increased stability in Afghanistan, and praised them for operating successfully under difficult and often dangerous conditions. The Czechs served for roughly six months under the international ISAF mission.

Svoboda to again raise visa issue during visit to US

According to the Foreign Ministry, the Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda is planning on again raising the issue of visa requirements for Czech citizens visiting the US, during an upcoming visit to Washington. The minister will discuss the issue when he meets with US Senate foreign committee chairman Chuck Hagel next week. In recent months, Czech politicians have criticised asymmetric conditions requiring Czechs to have visas to travel to the United States, while Americans do not need the same to visit the Czech Republic.

Despite well-publicised objection by the foreign minister, Washington has not indicated a desire to waive visa requirements for Czech visitors at this time.

Vik and Hajek make it to the men's final of the Prague Open

Two Czechs, Robin Vik and Jan Hajek, will play against one another in the men's final of the Prague Open tennis tournament on Sunday. Vik advanced by defeating Sergio Roitman of Argentina 6:3, 6:1, and Hajek defeated Konstantinos Economidis of Greece, 7:6, 6:2.

In women's doubles play, the Czech team of Gabriela Navratilova and Michaela Pastikova fell 6:3, 2:6, 7:5 to the American duo of Ashley Harkleroad and Bethanie Mattek who advance to the finals on Sunday. On Thursday, Harkleroad and Mattek also defeated Czech-American tennis legend Martina Navratilova and her doubles partner, Barbora Strycova.

Weather

The remainder of the weekend will be slightly overcast, with some sunny periods and daytime highs reaching 17 degrees.