The London-based human rights organisation Amnesty International has criticised the Czech Republic for ill treatment of its Roma minority and cases of degrading treatment of patients in mental hospitals. According to the Amnesty International annual report, released on Wednesday, the cases of ill-treatment of Romanies are not sufficiently investigated and their perpetrators are not sufficiently punished. The report also notes that Roma are affected by high unemployment and Romany children continue to be overrepresented in schools for children with learning difficulties. Amnesty International also points out that "cage beds" are still used in psychiatric hospitals to restrain patients. The organisation considers the use of cage beds in Czech mental institutions to be cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, violating international law and professional practice.
The Czech cabinet has approved draft legislation which abolishes thirteenth and fourteenth month salaries, a form of bonus given to civil servants in the summer and at the end of the year. Instead, the draft proposes to replace the two extra salaries with only 20% of one monthly wage, divided among the twelve salaries in the year. The cabinet also decided to deprive judges, MPs, ministers, and state representatives, of their fourteenth month salary as early as this year. Both draft laws are yet to be approved by parliament and signed by the president. Civil service unions, who oppose the draft, have said they are confident the proposed legislation would not make it through parliament.
Finance Minister, Bohuslav Sobotka, has sacked his deputy Jaroslav Sulc after the Czech daily Hospodarske Noviny reported Mr Sulc had collaborated with the communist-era secret police. Mr Sulc allegedly worked as a holder of a "cover address," meaning he gave his postal address at the disposal of the secret police. The paper adds that Mr Sulc received a screening certificate, proving that he had not collaborated with the political police. Holders of "cover addresses" are not explicitly mentioned in the "lustration" screening law of 1991.
The Czech Republic offers the best living conditions for Slovak citizens who have decided to live abroad, Slovak President Rudolf Schuster said on Wednesday. Mr Schuster is currently in Prague for the last time as Slovak President. He will be succeeded by Ivan Gasparovic, when his term ends in June. At a meeting with Slovak residents in the Czech Republic, he expressed regret over Slovakia's failure to do more to support its citizens abroad.
Czech farmers will no longer have to slaughter an entire herd if individual cattle contract mad cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy or BSE), Czech Television reported on Tuesday. With Czech herds often totalling several hundred cows, the Czech Republic has been opposed to EU regulations calling for the immediate slaughter of the entire herd when a single case of BSE is confirmed. In the last 3.5 years, 1,591 cows were slaughtered because of nine confirmed cases of BSE. At a meeting of agriculture ministers in Brussels this week, Czech Agriculture Minister Jaroslav Palas managed to convince Brussels to allow cows from a herd with one confirmed case to continue to produce milk. Since the beginning of 2001, over 570,000 Czech animals have been tested for BSE. The most recent case of detected BSE, the eleventh case in the country's history, was detected in South Bohemia on April 30.
The Czech National Security Council met on Tuesday to prepare for the upcoming NATO summit in Istanbul, Turkey. Following the meeting, Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla said the Czech Republic would not support any proposals for NATO's engagement in Iraq. This country is, however, willing to participate in peace-keeping missions in the Middle East. In February, Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda offered to act as a mediator to solve conflict on the borders between Lebanon, Syria, and Israel. According to Czech President Vaclav Klaus, who will be leading the Czech delegation to Istanbul, the fact that the next summit will be held in Turkey shows that NATO hopes to have a more clearly defined role in the Middle East. The Security Council on Tuesday also approved the country's military strategy but was not able to agree on a common Czech standpoint on European security and defence policy.
Czech soldiers specialised in anti-biological and chemical warfare may train their Greek counterparts, in order to help Greece optimize security during the Olympic Games in Athens this summer. The Greek Army decided to have its own soldiers trained by the specialised Czech units, which were originally meant to be part of security forces at the Olympic Games, but which the Greek government found to be too expensive. The Defence Ministry is currently in talks with the Greek Army and is expected to sign an agreement by the end of the week.
A police spokeswoman has confirmed that last month the Czech police stopped a number of illegal arms and ammunition shipments to Iraq and several Asian and African countries. Two Czechs were arrested and charged with violating laws on trade in weapons and the police confiscated a large number of ammunition and machine guns. Some of the ammunition was apparently destined for Iraq government units but Czech intelligence was afraid it could fall into the hands of anti-government forces.
A Prague court of appeal has overturned a three year prison sentence for an officer of the former communist secret service to a five year suspended sentence. Petr Zak was involved in the so called Asanace clearance operation aimed against dissidents of the former communist regime. They were persecuted and physically and emotionally abused with the aim of making them flee from their homeland. The former communist interior minister Jaromir Obzina who ordered the operation is dead and was never punished for the deed. Former stb officers, such as Zak claim they were merely obeying orders.
The Labour and Social Affairs Minister Zdenek Skromach has said he would resign if he fails to push through higher pensions and family benefits for next year. Under a coalition agreement pensions should grow by 500 to 600 crowns and benefits for families with children should also increase by several hundred crowns. Altogether the higher pensions and benefits should cost the state an additional 13 to 14 billion crowns. According to minister Skromach the state can afford it since state budget revenues are growing.