Roma rights activists have criticised statements by the chairman of the
Christian Democrats, Jiří Čunek, who said Romany family groups should be
broken up in order to weaken family ties which he said prevented them from
integrating. Speaking ahead of a party conference in Prague, he also said
that traditional Romany culture was not compatible with modern society.
Zdeněk Ryšavý of the group Romea said Mr Čunek had made the comments in
an effort to increase his fading popularity.
Jiří Čunek won a seat in the Senate after moving Romany rent defaulters out of the centre of the town of Vsetín, where he was mayor. The controversial politician is demanding to be reinstated as deputy prime minister and minister for regional development, after an investigation into allegations he accepted bribes at that time was dropped. A poll this week suggested Mr Čunek’s popularity was at a record low.
A 32-year-old man shot himself dead during a police pursuit in the centre of Prague on Saturday morning, a police spokesperson said. The man fled when he was stopped by officers during routine checks at Masarykovo nádraží train station. He ran as far as the garages of the nearby Palladium shopping centre, where he threatened the police with a gun. After a police officer shot him in the leg the man turned the gun on himself, despite police efforts to talk him out of suicide, the spokesperson said. The incident is being investigated.
The Czech woman at the centre of a bizarre case of identity fraud has been interviewed by psychiatrists for the first time. Barbora Škrlová is in custody in Brno, after being detained in Norway, where she had attended school in the guise of a 13-year-old boy. The diminutive 33-year-old was wanted in the Czech Republic, where she had previously posed as a 13-year-old girl, in connection with an investigation into an apparent child abuse ring. Ms Škrlová’s lawyer said he would petition on Monday to have her released from custody, which he said was a very stressful environment. The strange case has attracted a great deal of attention in the Czech Republic and internationally.
The human rights group Amnesty International held a protest against the Guantanamo Bay prison outside Prague’s American Embassy on Friday evening. Protesters dressed as prison guards brought colleagues in orange suits and handcuffs to the US Embassy in order to draw attention to the sixth anniversary of the first imprisonment at the US jail in Cuba, which has been used by Washington as part of what it calls its war on terror. The Amnesty activists called for detainees at Guantanamo to be either tried or released.
Memorial services were held on Saturday at the grave of Jan Palach at Prague’s Olšanské hřbitovy cemetery and in the town of Všetaty, where he lived. Palach set himself on fire at the top of Wenceslas Square on January 16, 1969, in protest at the Soviet invasion of 1968. He died three days later and his funeral became a major protest against the occupation.
The first person in the Czech Republic to have a simultaneous heart and lung transplant has been released from hospital. Lea Mečířová, who is 49, underwent the successful operation in late November at Prague’s Institute of Clinical and Experimental Medicine. She had been waiting for the operation since the year 2000. Around 80 such procedures are carried out around the world every year.
The recent lifting of controls on the Czech-German border has led to “a dramatic rise” in the number of cases of illegal migrants crossing the border, the German daily Bild has written, citing statistics by the German police which have yet to be officially published. Internal border controls were lifted in late December when the Czech Republic joined the Schengen zone. According to Bild, more than 600 illegal migrants have been detained in German-Czech border areas in recent weeks alone. By comparison, the daily writes, 480 or so illegal migrants were detained along the German borders with Poland and the Czech Republic during the entire first half of 2007. Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek recently discussed the issue of illegal migration with his Austrian counterpart; both sides in those talks pledged more would have to be done to lessen the problem.
Top representatives of the three coalition parties in government - meeting on Thursday -failed to reach agreement on the return of Christian Democrat leader Jiří Čunek to the cabinet. Members of the Civic Democrats, the Green Party and the Christian Democrats, discussed a number of alternatives, none of which were found acceptable. The Green Party’s Dana Kuchtová said afterwards that Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek is now likely to decide on Mr Čunek’s future in government himself. According to reports, both the Civic Democrats and the Greens have tried to dissuade the Christian Democrats from a Čunek “comeback”; while the politician, who stepped down as deputy prime minister and minister for regional development earlier this year, was cleared of corruption in a high profile case, he has been damaged publicly on different allegations of welfare abuse.
Police in the east Moravian town of Zlín have charged three youths – said to be skinheads aged 15 to 17 – for an alleged racially-motivated attack against a Sri Lankan exchange student. The attack against the student took place in Zlín last November. The youths are suspected of having brutally beaten the man by kicking him in the head and stomach. A study commissioned by the police revealed the attack could easily have left serious damage. As none of the three suspects are of age, if found guilty each faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
The number of applicants seeking asylum in the Czech Republic dropped last year, the Interior Ministry reported on Friday. Fewer than 2,000 foreigners applied for asylum in the Czech Republic in 2007, the lowest figure since 1995. Over a quarter of these were submitted by nationals from Ukraine and Turkey. Of the applications, 191 were successful: 32 came from Belarus, 31 from Russia, 19 from Ukraine and 17 from Iraq. While the number of asylum seekers from Ukraine has traditionally been high, the number of Turkish applicants rose several times since 2006. Now that the Czech Republic has entered the Schengen area, the number of asylum applications is expected to drop. Unlike Poland or neighbouring Slovakia, the country now only shares borders with other Schengen countries, making it more difficult for foreigners to apply. Anyone seeking asylum must legally do so in the first Schengen country they enter.
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