The Czech defence ministry denied on Tuesday that it was seeking help from the United States to modernize its armed forces in return for it hosting an anti-missile radar. Public broadcaster Czech Television reported on Monday, citing a deputy defence minister, that Prague was seeking Washington’s help to acquire two mid-range tactical transport planes and improve its air defences, possibly with Patriot missiles. Deputy defence minister Martín Barták said in front of the cameras that Prague had asked the US for cooperation in the acquisition of two mid-range tactical transport planes, a request which he said would be raised within the framework of anti-missile defence negotiations. But on Tuesday, the defence ministry said there had been a misunderstanding. The US could help in some way with obtaining Hercules aircraft, a spokesman said to AFP, but he denied that this would be linked in with talks about hosting the radar system.
The graves of over 320 Holocaust victims have been desecrated on the site of a former concentration camp in Terezín, Northern Bohemia. The bronze name plates of 327 victims of the Holocaust have been stolen in an attack which appears not to have been an act of anti-Semitism, but of theft. According to the news website Novinky.cz, the theft happened last week, and on Tuesday, the local police appealed for witnesses to come forward. The cemetery is not monitored by surveillance camera, but instead by regular police patrols. Those responsible, if caught, could face up to eight years in prison.
The minister for human rights and minorities Džamila Stehlíková is in hot water after making comments which have offended members of the country’s Roma population. In an interview for a local paper, Mrs Stehlíková said that the Czech Roma minority were prone to disrespect the property in which they lived, because they had not had to work for it. She was also quoted as saying that in the cases of Romany children underperforming at school, it was the parents who should be blamed, as they sent their children out to steal and not to learn. Mrs Stehlíková said that her comments had been misconstrued and that she was asked questions which set her up to answer in such a manner. She stressed that she did not think this was the case in all Roma households and apologized for sounding as if she was making generalizations.
The editors in chief of five of the Czech Republic’s biggest newspapers have sent a joint letter to Slovak President Ivan Gašparovič, calling on him not to sign a controversial press law recently passed by the Slovak parliament. Last week Slovakia’s seven leading dailies published a blank front page in protest against the law, which guarantees those who feel they have been slandered or defamed the right to reply within the offending paper. In the letter of protest, editors of five leading Czech publications said that this was pushing an individual’s right to reply to absurd lengths. The law has also been criticized elsewhere in the foreign media and by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Many fear that Slovak newspapers, which will be fined should they refuse to print the response to their article, will become cluttered up with individuals’ reactions and therefore difficult to read. The law will come into effect when it is officially signed by President Ivan Gašparovič.
The Czech anti-monopoly office has said that it will not reconsider its stance on the legality of building Jan Kaplický’s proposed National Library building on Letná plain. The anti-monopoly office was asked to look into the legality of the selection procedure which chose Mr Kaplický’s ‘blob’ as the winning design. Two months ago, its head Martin Pecina said that he saw no reason why the competition should not be recognized, but, he said, he subsequently came under pressure from the culture ministry to reverse his decision. The culture ministry denies the allegation. On Tuesday, Mr Pecina told Hospodářské noviny that he was in no hurry to reverse his decision and that the case had been shelved indefinitely. Jan Kaplický’s 'blob' has proved controversial since it was picked to become the new Czech national library building over a year ago. One of the project’s most famous and most vocal opponents is Czech president Vaclav Klaus.
The labour and social affairs minister Petr Nečas has said that he is against the idea of early retirement for those in jobs which are more physically demanding. The government recently drafted a bill which, as of 2030, would raise the retirement age for all Czech citizens to 65 years old. The reform has still to be approved by parliament. On Tuesday, Mr Nečas met with representatives of the miner’s union, who are pushing for the right to retire aged 55, because of the strenuous nature of their jobs. But following on from the meeting, Mr Nečas told journalists that he would make no concessions. The miner’s union is threatening protests as early as Monday, and potentially industrial action, should Mr Nečas fail to change his stance.
The biggest telecoms company in the Czech Republic, Telefonica O2, said on Monday that it would pay its main local rival, T-Mobile 2 billion CZK (127.3 million USD) claimed in unpaid phone bills. T-Mobile says it is owed the sum because Telefonica O2 and its predecessor paid insufficient connection charges dating back to 1997. Telefonica O2 said that it would make the payment because property worth more than the contested sum had been frozen as a result of a legal order taken out at T-Mobile’s request in the bitter battle between the companies. But it says it will fight on. Telefonica O2 said it would launch a legal challenge to existing Czech law covering the seizure of assets because loopholes had been exploited by its rival. Telefonica O2’s combined fixed and mobile phone businesses make it the biggest telecoms operator on the Czech market, closely followed by T-Mobile.
In more business news, the Czech Republic’s current account posted an 11.8 billion CZK (752 million USD) surplus in February. For 2007 as a whole, the country’s current account posted a deficit of 88.9 billion crowns, the Czech national bank recently announced. The current account measures trade, services and dividend flows into and out of the country and is seen as one of the main drivers of the Czech currency, the crown.
Commuters on the Prague public transport system will be able to purchase their period travel-cards over the internet as of August. Having purchased the tickets over the Prague Public Transport Company’s website, travelers can chose either to wait for their travel passes to be delivered by post, or to request a confirmation number, which they can then take to an outlet and redeem for a pass. At the moment, large queues build up at the beginning of each month at the handful of stations which sell period tickets in the capital. Recently, the Prague Public Transport Company introduced an SMS ticketing-service which won the firm a ‘Zavináč’ award for innovative use of new technologies.
Captain of the Czech football team Tomáš Rosický will recover from a recurring knee tendonitis which has made him doubtful for Euro 2008 in his homeland, the player announced on his website on Monday. The midfielder’s website said that following agreement with the Arsenal management, Rosický’s rehabilitation would continue in Prague. Rosický has been sidelined through injury since January. His continued absence from club and country prompted Czech football federation chiefs and team doctors to voice concerns last week over whether the key 27-year-old would be fit for June’s Euro 2008 championships. Rosický attempted to allay fears by saying that in the last few days he has been feeling a bit better.
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Traditional tourist sites open to visitors after long break