The joint Czech-Slovak chemical and biological warfare unit that is to start operating in Kuwait on March 1st is to become the biggest in the world, according to Slovak Defence Minister Ivan Simko. Last week, the Czech and Slovak defence ministers signed a bilateral agreement to form the Czech-Slovak unit for the protection against weapons of mass destruction. While the Czech members of the contingent are already active in Kuwait, their Slovak colleagues are expected to arrive at the beginning of next week. Although the unit is deployed as part of the Enduring Freedom operation, it is to be responsible for the protection of the allies' troops as well as civilians in around 26 countries if there should be a war against Iraq.
Some 300 anarchists took to the streets of Prague on Saturday to protest at a possible war against Iraq. During the demonstration, some protesters held speeches that harshly criticised the ongoing US preparations for war, saying that the United States' motive was not Iraqi disarmament but Iraq's oil. While lashing out at US foreign policy, the protesters stressed that their demonstration was neither in support of Saddam Hussein's regime nor Islamic terrorism. Carrying banners with slogans such as "no blood for oil" and "war against the people, the people against war", the protesters then proceeded through the city centre to the US Embassy in Prague.
If an ad hoc pro-war coalition of the United States and other countries is formed and a war on Iraq is declared without the support of the UN Security Council, the Czech Republic will not be a part of the operation. Speaking in a Czech TV discussion programme on Saturday, Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda reiterated that Czech forces would take part in military action against Iraq only with the support of the United Nations. On Thursday, US Defence Minister Donald Rumsfeld said that it was now only up to President Bush to declare war on Iraq as US troops are ready for the operation.
The Czech Army chief-of-staff has said an army field hospital which returned from Afghanistan in January could be deployed to Macedonia. Chief-of-staff Pavel Stefka said the field hospital could be sent to the country in March, when the European Union takes over peace-keeping duties in Macedonia from NATO.
Deputies belonging to the right-of-centre Freedom Union, the smallest party in the ruling coalition, have pledged their support for the government's candidate for president Jan Sokol. Mr Sokol, a former Education Minister and now university professor, held an hour of talks with the Freedom Union MPs on Thursday, ahead of next week's third attempt in parliament to try and elect a new president. Observers say Mr Sokol has a good chance of being elected, although everything depends on how many members of the senior coalition Social Democrats will give him their vote.
A Nigerian diplomat was shot and killed at the Nigerian embassy in Prague on Wednesday morning. A lone gunman opened fire inside the embassy, shooting the 50-year-old consul, Michael Lekary Wayid, twice in the chest - he died at the scene. A receptionist was also shot, and was later hospitalised. The suspect taken into custody in connection with the shootings is a 72-year-old Czech man. After the incident the suspect reportedly collapsed, and was taken to a military hospital, where he is under surveillance. Police are investigating possible motives for the murder. One theory suggested early on was that the killing may have been connected to a so-called 'Nigerian letter' deal - the kind of fraudulent proposals common on the internet that promise attractive business returns for large investments, that ultimately never materialise.
Social Democrat MPs present in the Lower House on Wednesday voted unanimously to support the presidential candidacy of university professor Jan Sokol in an upcoming third round of presidential elections. The situation brings the Czech Republic closer to finally electing a successor to Vaclav Havel, after two failed attempts in January. Vaclav Havel stepped down at the beginning of February after 13 years in office. Early on Mr Sokol, who is 66, stipulated he would run only if he gained the full support of all three parties in the governing coalition, the only possibility of putting up a strong challenge to the right-of-centre Civic Democrat candidate Vaclav Klaus. So far both the Freedom Union and the Christian Democrats have reacted positively to Wednesday's developments, so it seems likely Mr Sokol will run against Mr Klaus on February 28th.
European Union leaders on Tuesday met for foreign policy consultations with 13 future members in an effort to diffuse tension sparked by French President Jacques Chirac's verbal attack on the EU candidates on Monday. Mr. Chirac evoked outrage across eastern Europe, when he slammed candidate countries for their stand on the Iraqi crisis, calling them "childish and irresponsible" and telling them they would have done better to "shut up". The hastily convened foreign policy consultations in Brussels produced a common statement calling for a peaceful resolution of the Iraqi crisis but warning Bagdad to disarm or face war as a last resort. In the document current and future EU members promise to "avoid new dividing lines" and vow "joint endeavours" to meet their common goals. The Czech Prime Minister told reporters he welcomed the gesture and stressed the need for present and future EU members to hold foreign policy consultations on important issues.
Prague's Ruzyne Airport increased security on Monday, following a decision by the Central Crisis Committee last week to tighten security around the country's borders, water sources, reservoirs, and international airport. While police, armed with guns are already patrolling the airport area, up to forty soldiers are expected to be deployed this week. Thorough security checks have mainly been introduced to passengers flying to the USA, Canada, and Great Britain.
The Christian Democrats and Freedom Union, the two smaller parties in the Czech governing coalition, have voiced preliminary support for university professor Jan Sokol as their candidate in the third round of presidential elections, due to be held on February 28th. Mr. Sokol, whose nomination was officially approved by the Social Democratic Party leadership on Saturday, appears to be the most acceptable figure so far to the three parties of the governing coalition who, due to their slim majority in parliament, need to unite behind a single candidate. If nominated, Mr. Sokol will stand against the former Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus, the official candidate of the opposition Civic Democrats. A third failure to elect a new president would most likely tip the scales in favour of direct presidential elections.