The Czech prime minister, Mirek Topolánek, says suggestions that a deal to allow a US radar base to be built in the Czech Republic could be announced in the very near future are premature. A Pentagon spokesperson was quoted on Tuesday as saying a treaty could be agreed in the next few weeks. However, Mr Topolánek told reporters on Wednesday that it would not be possible to comment on the progress of negotiations until after further meetings between both sides next week. He repeated earlier comments that Prague was interested in a quality rather than a speedy deal with Washington. The US would like to build a radar base in central Bohemia as part of a global anti-missile defence system. Prime Minister Topolánek had previously said the Czech Parliament would vote on the matter after a NATO summit in April. His government backs the US plan; polls suggest up to 70 percent of Czech citizens are opposed.
The government is to create a special body aimed at combating the existence of ghettos in the Czech Republic. The new agency will operate in 12 places in Bohemia and Moravia and aims to turn ghettos, which are mostly populated by Romany citizens, into ordinary districts. It will focus on increasing co-operation between local authorities, schools, the police, labour offices, NGOs, companies and local people. The plan was devised by the minister for minorities and human rights, Džamila Stehlíková, and was approved by the cabinet on Wednesday. Around 300 districts and even individual apartment buildings in the Czech Republic have been classed as ghettos; inhabitants suffer from a range of social problems, including high unemployment.
The government has approved a bill aimed at settling property disputes between the state and Czech churches. Under the new law, the state would pay CZK 83 billion in compensation for church property nationalised during the communist regime. With interest, the sum will reach almost CZK 270 billion, the Czech News Agency reported. Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek described the move as an historical breakthrough and unique opportunity, though the head of the Czech Roman Catholic church, Archbishop Miloslav Vlk, has said the settlement mainly favours the state. If approved by parliament and signed by the president, the bill would take effect as of 2009.
A new-born baby discovered abandoned in a rubbish container has been brought home by his new adoptive parents. The child has been adopted following a two-month period in which his biological parents could have come forward and claimed him. The boy, named Vendelín Čtvrtek by carers, was discovered by chance by a homeless man in the middle of December.
The organiser of a neo-Nazi march banned by the authorities in Plzeň was a member of the governing Civic Democrats, the news website iDnes.cz reported. A spokesperson for the party said Václav Bureš had been expelled in January, after it emerged that he was behind the march, which was timed to coincide with the anniversary of the first transport of Jews from the city in 1942. The far-right gathering was banned last Thursday, two days before it was due to take place. In the end around 200 neo-Nazis attended a demonstration in Prague, which passed off peacefully.
Prague police kicked around 2,800 people off night trams and buses in the city last year, a senior police official said on Wednesday. Passengers were mainly removed for being drunk, unruly behaviour and wearing dirty clothes. Patrols of Prague’s night transport network were doubled last year. Many of those expelled from night trams and buses are homeless; the city’s police are currently considering establishing a special unit focused on dealing with homeless people.
Slovak PM Robert Fico has criticized US plans to site part of its missile defence system in the Czech Republic and Poland. Addressing the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg on Monday, Mr Fico said that he considers the project to be pointless. He expressed the view that any decisions on defence-related issues should be subject to negotiations between NATO and the EU. The Slovak Prime Minister also rejected the notion that bilateral talks between the United States and individual European allies do not concern third countries, especially those neighbouring on the Czech Republic and Poland.
The health of former Czech President Václav Havel, who was hospitalized with a heart problem over the weekend, is reported to have improved slightly. Mr Havel was admitted to hospital on Saturday with bronchitis and heart arrhythmia, a problem aggravated by his busy work schedule. Doctors at the Prague Institute of Clinical and Experimental Medicine where Mr Havel is hospitalized say he will remain in hospital for another two weeks during which he will undergo a series of heart and lungs examinations.
The Irish independently-produced movie Once with Czech singer Markéta Irglová has been nominated for the Academy Award for best original song for the ballad Falling Slowly. The romance of an Irish busker with a Czech immigrant in Dublin stars Czech singer Markéta Irglová and Irish musician Glen Hansard. Produced for 160,000 US dollars, it has made more than 15.2 million dollars world wide. Last year, it won the audience award at the Sundance film festival in the United States and also won the Grammy awards nomination for best soundtrack.
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Janek Rubeš: The only question I get – and there are thousands of them – is, Can we come to Prague?