The head of the US Missile Defense Agency, Lt. General Henry Obering III, has urged Czech Parliament to pass legislation on the deployment of a US radar base on Czech territory, making clear a refusal would represent a serious setback for the US. The Czech lower house began debating the issue on Wednesday, but it is clear the government will need to find support from among at least some in the opposition, until now strongly against the plan. The US is hoping to deploy its base to the Brdy military zone, some 70 km south of Prague, to serve as part of a broader defence shield in Europe. Mr Obering allowed that if the bill is rejected, the US has a backup plan. A vote on the radar is expected to take place next year.
Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg has expressed backing for Balkan countries joining the EU even ahead of adoption of the Lisbon Treaty, the document intended to reform the functioning of the European Union. He made the comment during a lecture on Friday, saying that the Balkans joining the EU was in the interest of all of Europe. France, Germany, and other countries have suggested that further enlargement of the 27-member union should be halted at least until the treaty is ratified. But Mr Schwarzenberg said such a position was wrong, especially in Croatia’s case. Sources have said that Croatia could theoretically conclude its talks with the EU by the end of 2009, paving the way for full membership in 2012.
The Czech weekly Respekt has said it will not apologise for a recent article alleging that Czech born-writer Milan Kundera informed on a man spying for the West in Communist Czechoslovakia. A statement was released on Friday by the weekly’s editor-in-chief. The story, published in mid-October, centred on a Czech historian’s uncovering of a police document dating back to 1950. In the case, the man Mr Kundera allegedly informed on spent 14 years in prison. The author of such novels as The Unbearable Lightness of Being has denied the allegation and has threatened to sue. A number of observers have come out against the article. The Czech Academy of Sciences, for example, criticised the manner of the story’s publication, suggesting that the methods used showed what it called “a lack of critical scientific thinking”.
The head of the Communist Party Vojtěch Filip has said that senators failed to follow proper protocol in the upper house this week in a decision to ask the government to take steps regarding the constitutional status of the Communist Party. Mr Filip said that rendered the move “illegitimate”. 30 out of 38 senators present on Thursday voted to address the government to ask to the Constitutional Court to examine whether the party is in violation of the constitution. A several-hundred page report argues that the party has failed to officially reject violence as a means of achieving political goals. Senators have also charged that the Communist Party has not broken ideologically with its criminal predecessor, KSČ. Mr Filip called the document focussing on his party “legally irrelevant”.
Trial production is set to begin at carmaker Hyundai’s first European plant, located in Nošovice in the Czech Republic. A spokesman revealed that the firm received a final permit allowing for production to begin on November 3. A ceremonial launch will then be held one week after that. Roughly 18,000 cars are expected to be produced at the site by the end of the year. The factory represents an investment of 1.1 billion euros; the company is expecting to produce 200,000 cars next year, and to employ more than three thousand workers by 2011.
The Health Minister Tomáš Julínek has said that changes will be needed in order to prevent a further rise in the number of the country’s nurses leaving their profession for better opportunities. He and Dana Jurásková, the head of the Czech Nurses Association, agreed on Saturday that changes in education and training were needed, as well as an increase in nurses’ pay. In the short-term, nurses should see an increase in salary bonuses; in the long-term more significant changes will be needed, the officials said. According to some statistics, the Czech health care sector is short around 1,000 nursing staff.
The legendary British rock group Queen played to a sold-out arena in Prague on Friday night, the band’s second appearance in the Czech Republic. They first performed in Prague three years ago. Headed by singer Paul Rodgers and guitarist Brian May, the group performed some of bands most recognisable hits, including We Are the Champions and Bohemian Rhapsody.
Prague’s Botanical Garden in Troje celebrated Halloween on Friday with events for visitors and visitors’ children. Attendees were given the opportunity to carve their own pumpkins. A spoon, knife, and mask were among the required implements. Disguises worn included costumes of animals, witches and knights. According to the Botanical Garden's organisers, Halloween is their busiest day of the year, when the gardens see an average of around 2,000 visitors.
The Chamber of Deputies has passed a government bill expected to toughen criteria for the possession of firearms in the Czech Republic as of January 1, 2009. The aim is to lower the risk of legally-held weapons being used in crimes. The bill, which passed without any major modifications, also toughens criteria for those seeking a gun licence, said to disqualify individuals with histories of heavy alcohol or drug abuse. Also toughened: punishment for crimes involving firearms as well as stricter controls on defunct weapons. In past cases, firearms that had been written off were later found to still be functional and in illegal use; before being passed into law the bill will still have to be signed by the president.
The daily Právo has reported that Czech Member of the European Parliament Jan Zahradil may run for the post of leader of the Civic Democratic Party at the party’s December congress. He told the daily he might aim to lead the party for an interim period of one year, saying such a move depended on how two blocs within the ruling party clashed in December. One faction may back current leader Mirek Topolánek, another, his challenger Pavel Bém. Mr Zahradil said he would consider such a clash “unfortunate” and made clear his decision to run would be an effort to re-unite his party. The MEP is known for having close ties to the country’s president, Václav Klaus, founder of the Civic Democratic Party. By comparison, the president’s relationship with current chairman Mirek Topolánek is known to be rocky.
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