The Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg has invited Belarus to take part in the upcoming Eastern Partnership Summit, to take place in Prague on May 7. The foreign minister extended the invitation to controversial Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko on the behalf of the EU presidency on Friday. In Minsk, Mr Schwarzenberg stressed it was up to the president to decide who would represent his country. Until now, Belarus’ involvement had been in doubt over its poor record on human rights; the regime in the past had been dubbed the last dictatorship in Europe. The aim of the Prague summit is to develop and improve ties between the EU and six states from the former Soviet bloc, not just Belarus but also Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.
In related news, Czech President Václav Klaus made clear on Friday he will snub the Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko if he chooses to attend the summit in Prague. In a statement released by his office on Friday, the president made clear he would not shake hands with Mr Lukashenko nor would he receive him at Prague Castle.
The upper house of the Czech Parliament is due to vote on the EU’s Lisbon treaty early next month, prior to the naming of a new interim cabinet. A spokesman revealed the news on Thursday, saying that the vote will take place during a session on May 6-7. There is speculation that the decision could be close, given the treaty is opposed by a number of Civic Democrats. The Lisbon treaty is aimed at reforming the functioning of the 27-member European Union, but has stalled in a number of countries, including Ireland and Poland. If it is ratified in the Czech Senate, the treaty will still need to be signed by President Václav Klaus, a well-known eurosceptic. The treaty must be ratified in all 27 EU countries to come into effect.
Residents in the north Bohemian city of Ústí nad Labem are taking precautions ahead of a planned neo-Nazi march on Saturday. A Czech far-right group inspired by German neo-Nazis is allegedly marking the 64th anniversary of the bombing of the city in 1945, but observers say the real reason is to mark the upcoming anniversary of the birth of Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler. A spokeswoman for the police on Friday said that some 500 right-wing extremists could attend, some of them from neighbouring Germany. Leftist radicals are also expected to come out in opposition. The police are planning on maintaining a strong presence, with some 1,000 officers. Controls will also be in place in key areas, while local transport will be re-routed during the demonstration.
The Czech daily Hospodářské noviny has reported that outgoing Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek has not ruled out a centre-right “alliance” between the Civic Democrats and others – possibly smaller parties - ahead of the early elections. Speaking to the daily, the prime minister hinted he wanted to bring together various organisations, including the Confederation of Political Prisoners – as a pre-election move. Last year, his party suffered defeat at the hands of the opposition Social Democrats in regional and Senate elections. Analysts are predicting that pre-election campaigns in the coming weeks by the two main parties will be particularly hard-hitting, not only ahead of the early elections in the Czech Republic but also ahead of elections to the European Parliament.
The head of the Christian Democratic Party, Jiří Čunek, has said he will propose that the country’s incoming cabinet push through a lowering of electricity prices in the Czech Republic. He made the statement on Friday, stressing he would make a proposal to Prime Minister-designate Jan Fischer next week. But he refused to elaborate, saying he would explain his plan - meant as an anti-crisis step – to Mr Fischer on Tuesday. In addition, on Friday the Christian Democrats confirmed they will not put forward recommendations for Mr Fischer's cabinet.
The regional court in Ostrava, in the east of the country, has sentenced the former head of Moravia bank, Jiří Baron to 8.5 years in prison for loan fraud. The ruling toughens an earlier sentence, which was thrown out by the appeals court, by one year. In total, 17 people have been charged in the case for the alleged embezzlement of more than one billion crowns (the equivalent of around 49 million US dollars). Moravia bank went bankrupt in 1999; at the time it had around 9 billion crowns in its accounts.
Star football midfielder Pavel Nedvěd has said his decision to retire from football at the end of the current season is final, The Independent has reported. The Czech international, who is 36 and plays for Juventus Turin, said he would no go back on his word, saying it was “time to make room for other things”.
Legendary Czech hockey goalie Dominik Hašek – who twice won the NHL’s Stanley Cup with the Detroit Red Wings and won gold at the Winter Olympics in 1998 - will return to hockey, internet news site iDnes has reported. The 44-year-old goalie retired from hockey last year but has reportedly signed a one-year contract with his hometown Pardubice, the website said. The player himself has so far declined to comment.
The Czech EU presidency has criticized the draft of the final declaration of a UN conference on racism, the DPA news agency reported on Thursday. Czech officials expressed discontent over the use of the terms “religion” and “occupied territories” in the final declaration of the conference which will start in Geneva on Monday. Several Muslim countries have attempted to modify the final declaration so that it condemns Israel. The EU had previously threatened to boycott the event while the US, Canada, Israel and Italy have already pulled out.
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