NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has called for an end to the ethnic violence between Serbs and Albanians in the south Serbian province of Kosovo which has claimed at least 22 lives. Speaking during a short visit to Prague, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said he had been on the phone to "all the relevant players" in Pristina and Belgrade following the worst ethnic violence in the Serbian province since it was put under UN administration in 1999. The NATO chief also appealed to the media to show restraint in reporting. Mr De Hoop Scheffer visited Prague briefly on Thursday to mark the fifth anniversary of the Czech Republic's accession to NATO.
The Czech Republic has received a list of requests sent to NATO by Greece, calling for aid in protecting the Olympic Games in Athens this summer, Defence Ministry spokesman Ladislav Sticha said. Mr Sticha declined to give any details of Greece's requests, saying that the material was classified. However, it is likely that the Czech Republic will send its special anti-chemical unit. Greece first asked for NATO aid during the Summer Olympics last week, saying it should include protection of airspace, joint sea patrols, and protection against nuclear, biological, and chemical attack.
A Slovak member of the Czech-Slovak battalion at the KFOR peacekeeping mission in Kosovo has been injured in the latest outbreak of violence. The soldier is reported to have suffered concussion when a demonstrator hit him with a stone on Thursday. According to unit commander Josef Kopecky, the soldiers have been trying to mediate between Serbian and Albanian mobs who are looting and burning the houses of the opposite ethnic group near the regional capital of Pristina. The joint Czech-Slovak battalion is responsible for the northeast portion of Kosovo, primarily its border with Serbia.
President Vaclav Klaus has criticised the Czech Republic's legal system, saying there are too many laws. In his first address to the upper house of the Czech Parliament, the Senate, since his election as president last year, Mr Klaus also criticised what he called quick changes to the legal system. President Klaus added that instead of producing new legislation, politicians should try to revise and reduce the existing number of laws.
Senator Vladimir Zelezny, the former head of TV Nova, the Czech Republic's most successful commercial broadcaster, has announced plans to run in elections to the European Parliament in June. Mr Zelezny accepted the ballot for the so-called Independents, the 15th group to announce it will be fielding candidates in the up-coming elections. Mr Zelezny, who was elected to the senate almost two years ago despite facing charges of fraud in relation to his television career, has said if elected he would open a parliamentary office in Znojmo, south Moravia - the base of his senatorial constituency. Voting to the European Parliament will take place on June 11th and 12th. The full list of candidates however is to be submitted by April 6th.
Voting in the senate committee on human rights has shown that the senate, as expected, will likely reject a proposed bill recognising Czechoslovakia's second president Edvard Benes' contribution to the Czechoslovak state. Five out of eight committee members voted against the bill Wednesday, indicating the special statute should be reserved for Czechoslovakia's first president Tomas Garrigue Masaryk, a view shared by current president Vaclav Klaus. Other opponents of the bill have expressed disapproval the law was put forward by the Communist Party, or expressed disapproval of Mr Benes' role during and after World War II, blaming his policies then of paving the way for the communist take-over of 1948.
Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda in Geneva, Switzerland for the 60th annual session of the UN Conference on Human Rights, has dismissed inflammatory comments made by Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque of Cuba. On Wednesday Mr Roque had harsh words for the Czechs, a reaction to the Czech Republic's past and current condemnation of Cuba's record on human rights. Mr Roque called the Czech Republic a 'contemptible lackey' of the United States and Washington, comments Mr Svoboda dismissed by indicating Czechs knew well what to think of totalitarian regimes. Between 1999 and 2001 the Czech Republic initiated a resolution by the UN commission condemning human rights abuses in Cuba, and currently a four-day event is underway in Prague marking solidarity with political prisoners jailed in Cuba last year.
According to EU commission sources the Czech Republic has found itself dismally behind in the translation of legal documents on European law just over a month before the Czech Republic joins the European Union. The drop-off in translations of binding laws into Czech is allegedly connected with a lack of staff and organisational changes at the government's revision centre, and the Czech news agency CTK has reported that unless the documents are fully translated the laws theoretically need not be legally binding come May 1st, the date of European accession. CTK reports that Czech Ambassador Pavel Telicka is to discuss the issue with Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla at the weekend.
The Czech People in Need Foundation launched a campaign on Monday to commemorate seventy-five Cuban journalists and human rights activists who were imprisoned by the Castro regime last April. Under the Stop Repression in Cuba campaign, seventy-five volunteers represent the prisoners and spend an hour each in a symbolic cell set up on Prague's Wenceslas Square. Among the volunteers are politicians, artists, and journalists including Senate Chairman Petr Pithart, Deputy Prime Minister Petr Mares, journalist and former dissident Petr Uhl, and artist David Cerny.
Czech Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla is currently on a two-day visit to Romania aimed at strengthening bilateral political and business relations. At a meeting with his counterpart Adrian Nastase, Mr Spidla offered to help Romania prepare for EU membership by sharing Czech experiences. The two politicians also agreed that there was room for more trade. The Czech government's CzechTrade agency promoting foreign trade used the occasion of Mr Spidla's visit to open its new office in Bucharest. On Tuesday, Mr Spidla plans to meet with members of the Czech community and attend a Czech-Romanian business forum. He is scheduled to leave for Macedonia on Tuesday evening.