On a visit to Prague, German Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier paid tribute to Germany’s eastern neighbors for their role in bringing about the fall of the Berlin Wall 20 years ago. At a joint press conference with his Czech and Slovak counterparts, the German foreign minister said his countrymen would never forget that the reunification of Germany would not have been possible without the activities of the Czech Charter 77 human rights movement and the Polish Solidarity movement. On Monday Mr. Steinmeier visited a multimedia exhibition on Wenceslas Square called “20 years of freedom - Germany says thank you”. After closing in Prague the exhibition will make its way to Warsaw, Gdansk, Bratislava and Budapest. During his trip to Prague the German foreign minister also met with the icon of the Velvet Revolution, Vaclav Havel.
EU agriculture ministers meeting in Brno on Tuesday pledged to tackle the question of unequal subsidies to old and new member states, but made no commitment to speed up the process. Farmers from the EU newcomer states, who joined the block in or after 2004, get lower subsidies than the old members and have been calling for this discrepancy to be removed by 2010, instead of 2013 as planned. The 2013 target date for equal payments was something the newcomers agreed to in accession talks.
President Václav Klaus has questioned the significance of this weekend's European elections. In Paris to promote a new book calling into question the dangers of climate change, Mr. Klaus said the traditionally low voter turnout in European elections was due to the fact that there is no real European community of people. We are talking about the French, Czechs, Germans, Poles, he argued. Mr. Klaus said the lack of interest was revealing and that he personally would be quite happy have to have the deputies elected into national parliaments represent their countries in Brussels. Mr. Klaus, who prefers the label Eurorealist to Eurosceptic, has long fought against the creation of what he says would be an artificial European super-state.
Jiří Komorous, former head of the national anti-drugs squad, has been appointed head of the government’s anti-extremism task force. Interior Minister Martin Pecina, who hand-picked Mr. Komorous for the post of deputy interior minister, said on Monday that the fight against extremism was a top priority and he wanted it supervised by someone experienced in law-enforcement. Jiří Komorous, known for his uncompromising crusade against drug dealers, headed the police's elite anti-drug squad from 1993 to 2009 before retiring from the police force after 17 years of service. He is said to enjoy great respect among rank and file officers.
The Interior Ministry has promised to have a manual on how to tackle extremism ready within a week’s time. The manual will be available online and will offer town halls and municipalities advice on how to go about banning or dissolving marches and demonstrations by far-right groups. It should also contain a list of banned symbols and dates relating to Nazi anniversaries. The manual is being put together by lawyers and experts on extremism at the request of town mayors who say they need help to counter growing extremism in the country.
The police has accused eight people of tax fraud in connection with fuel imports to the Czech Republic, which deprived the state of one billion crowns, a police spokesman said on Tuesday. The suspects, a network of company managers and salesmen, bought fuel in neighbouring Austria and Germany, doctoring purchasing contracts and their accounting books to make huge profits on unpaid VAT for over two years. If found guilty they face up to 12 years in prison.
A series of cultural events publicising the Czech presidency of the EU opened at UN headquarters in New York on June 1st and is scheduled to last until June 17th. They include Antonín Kratochvíl´s exhibition of photographs called “The Times in which I Live”, Zuzana Stivínova´s Concert “From the Stage to the Bar”, a Gourmet Festival of Czech food and a screening selected of documentaries by Czech filmmakers.
Czech singer Karel Gott on Tuesday launched a new album of evergreens – a collection of the greatest hits of his career spanning half a century. The album –comprising 70 songs - is being released on occasion of the singer’s upcoming 70th birthday. The book launch took place on the site of the former Vltava coffee house where Karel Gott gave his first public performance, singing with an amateur band. In the course of his career he collected 34 Golden Nightingale Awards as the country’s most popular singer, recording 63 albums and 182 singles.
The Serbian border police detained a Czech woman trying to smuggle nine kilograms of heroin across the Hungarian border in her car on Sunday, the Serbian news website B92 reported. The woman was detained at the Hogoros border crossing and is in custody pending an investigation. The value of nine kilograms of heroin on the black market would be from 5 to 18 million crowns, according to the Czech National Drug Centre.
The Czech EU presidency on Monday issued a statement calling elections in the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia “illegitimate” and expressing full support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia. The EU does not accept the legality of the election, nor its result, and considers this development a setback in the search for a peaceful and lasting settlement of the situation in Georgia, the statement says. Russia recognized South Ossetia as an independent state after its five-day war with Georgia in August last year and has been trying to consolidate its hold on the region. Sunday’s election is reported to have been won by parties close to the pro-Moscow leader of South Ossetia, Eduard Kokoyev.
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