The EU will give struggling eastern European countries support if needed, although the bloc’s leaders have decided against a regional aid plan, Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek said on Sunday. Speaking after a summit of EU leaders in Brussels chaired by the Czech EU presidency, Mr Topolánek told journalists that he thought it was perfectly clear that the European Union was ‘not going to leave anybody in the lurch’. The one-day emergency summit was called by Mr Topolánek last month to tackle the economic and financial crisis. At the summit, EU leaders were hoping to patch over their differences and avoid a crisis of confidence in the bloc’s single market.
In the run-up to the summit, Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek called upon fellow European leaders not to divide the bloc by implementing ‘beggar-thy-neighbour’ protectionist policies. In the statement released on Saturday, Mr Topolánek said that Europe would only be able to overcome the current financial crisis if member states ‘acted together in a coordinated way’. He urged EU leaders to continue to abide by Community rules, even as recession deepened. The Czech prime minister warned that a Europe divided along North-South or East-West lines was ‘unacceptable’ and to be avoided. Mr Topolánek did, however, call the bail-out packages implemented by individual EU member states ‘essential’, saying it was through such bail-outs that frozen credit flows would be unlocked.
At Sunday’s emergency summit in Brussels, Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek also confirmed that new American President Barack Obama would be visiting Prague on April 5. Speculation that the new US president would attend an informal EU summit in the Czech capital next month has been rife in the Czech media in the last couple of days. On Sunday, the Czech premier confirmed that Mr Obama had accepted Prague’s invitation to attend the informal meeting of all 27 EU leaders. Mr Obama will make his first trip to Europe as president of the United States on April 2, when he attends a G20 meeting in London. He will then attend events organized to mark the 60th anniversary of NATO in Germany and France before coming to Prague. It is not yet clear whether he will be accompanied by Defence Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during his Prague visit.
The Deputy Czech Prime Minister for European Affairs, Alexandr Vondra, meanwhile, has said that if the EU is to find a common solution to the current global economic crisis, then all EU members must ‘show their hands’ and be honest about the amount of bad debt they have. Speaking on Czech Television on Sunday, Mr Vondra said that he knew the process would not be easy, and that the Czech EU presidency had called Sunday’s European summit to get such discussion underway.
Interior Minister Ivan Langer has come out in support of the mayor of Chomutov, who has recently implemented a controversial system of reclaiming debts from rent-defaulters by sending in bailiffs straight after benefits have been handed out. The Minister for Human Rights and Minorities Michael Kocáb has called Mayor Ivana Řápková’s system of debt collection ‘illegal’, and the practice has also received criticism from the ombudsman Otakar Motejl. But on Sunday, Mr Langer said that he considered the system to be ‘correct’ and said it was right that those who ‘sponge off the system’ were held to account. Mrs Řápková said that she appreciated the interior minister’s support and that she would continue with the current system of debt-collection.
NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright will both attend a two-day conference in Prague to mark the Czech Republic’s accession to NATO, it was announced on Sunday. The conference will be held between March 12-13 in the Czech Senate. It will also be attended by Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg. The Czech Republic joined NATO alongside Poland and Hungary on March 12, 1999, eight years after the organisation’s communist counterpart, the Warsaw Pact, was dissolved. It was the first time in history that the Czech Republic had joined a transatlantic security system. Since, the Czech military has participated in a number of NATO foreign missions, in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kosovo.
Police in Brno are investigating a series of stabbings which took place in the Czech Republic’s second city on Saturday night, which they say may have been racially-motivated. Three men are recovering in a Brno hospital having been stabbed late on Saturday night; according to doctors, none of the men are in a life-threatening condition. A police spokesperson said that it was not yet clear whether the men had been stabbed by the same assailant, and whether the attacks had been racially-motivated.
A retrospective of the work of Czech New Wave director Ivan Passer has got underway at New York’s Museum of Modern Art - MoMa. The retrospective will last the whole month of March, during which some of Passer’s best-known Czech films will be presented alongside a number of the movies he made after emigrating to the United States. On March 6, Passer himself will present his 1965 film ‘Intimní Osvětlení’ (‘Intimate Lighting’). On March 9, the director will present the work of fellow Czech filmmaker Jan Šikl, who has won a series of awards in the Czech Republic for his cycle of documentaries ‘Soukrome stoleti’. Passer’s MoMa retrospective comes one year after a profile of the director’s long-time friend and colleague, Miloš Forman, at the New York museum.
Iveta Lutovská from Třeboň won the beauty contest Česká Miss 2009 on Saturday evening. Viewers of Czech Television voted overwhelmingly for the 25-year-old, who was also the favourite of the competition’s jury. Ms Lutovská was awarded her crown by Miss Universe, Dayana Mendoza from Venezuela. Second came Tereza Budková from Sezimova Ústí and third was Zina Štovíčková from Nový Bor. The contest was held at Prague’s Ruzyně airport and broadcast live on Czech Television. Former President Václav Havel and Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg were both in attendance. Ms Lutovská has won a year-long contract worth 1 million crowns (45,000 USD), and will now represent the Czech Republic in the Miss Universe contest.
Police are investigating 51 people in connection with allegations of corruption at the Czech Defence Ministry, and fraudulent tenders worth more than 300 million crowns (13.5 million USD). On Friday, a Defence Ministry spokesperson confirmed that a number of tenders dating from 2005 were being looked into. Andrej Čírtek admitted that one third of the accused were former employees of the ministry, though none of those implicated worked for the ministry any more, he said. The other individuals being investigated all came from private enterprise. The tenders in question all related to smaller-scale construction and maintenance of ministry properties.
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