Thirty customs officers and five inspectors from the Czech Trade Inspection have launched a surprise raid on the largest open air market in the Czech Republic, in Potucky near the western town of Karlovy Vary. They are searching mainly for illegal stocks of alcohol and cigarettes. The customs officers are going to stay at the site for the next few days monitoring the market with approximately 2,000 mostly Vietnamese stall keepers. The sale of alcohol and cigarettes at open-air markets was banned in January this year.
The former prime minister and chairman of the Social Democrat party, Milos Zeman, met the leader of the opposition Communist Party, Miroslav Grebenicek, and the head of the Communist parliamentary party, Pavel Kovacik on Friday. A spokeswoman for the Communist Party said that their discussion focused on the current political situation in the Czech Republic. Mr Zeman declined to comment on the meeting which he described as private. At the moment, the acting chairman of the Social Democrats, Stanislav Gross, is trying to put together a new coalition government together with the Christian Democrats and the Freedom Union. Mr Gross says he does not want to rely on the support of the Communist Party.
According to Saturday's edition of the daily Pravo, the United States will finance the construction of a new headquarters for the radio station Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Prague. The radio station is due to move out of the former Czechoslovak parliament building in the centre of Prague mainly for security reasons. The Czech Foreign Minister, Cyril Svoboda, who discussed the issue this week in Washington, told Pravo that the station's new headquarters will be built at a location with minimum security risks for both Czech citizens and employees of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Mr Svoboda also said that the US Secretary of State Colin Powell had confirmed the US commitment to move Radio Free Europe from the centre of Prague by the end of 2007.
President Vaclav Klaus laid flowers at the busts of Czechoslovak presidents T.G. Masaryk and Edvard Benes in the courtyard of a hotel in the southern town of Cesky Krumlov. The bust of president Edvard Benes has been at the centre of criticism from the part of some Sudeten German groups and politicians from Upper Austria. Benes, who was president before and after the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia during World War II, issued a set of decrees that led to the post-war expulsion of some 2.5 million ethnic Germans. Mr Klaus is spending two nights at the hotel at the invitation of its owner.
The interior ministers of six Central European countries, including the Czech Republic, agreed on Friday that they would not support the creation of special European Union police units meant to guard the external borders of the union. The Czech Interior Minister, Stanislav Gross, who chaired the meeting in the Austrian town of Fuschl am See, said none of the countries of the Salzburg Forum supported the idea of a European border police force. He added that the protection of the external borders should remain in the competence of individual states with a certain degree of solidarity in sharing expenses. The Salzburg Forum includes the Czech Republic, Austria, Slovakia, Slovenia and Hungary. During their annual meetings the interior ministers of these countries seek, among other things, to find a common stance on security policies.
Czech President Vaclav Klaus is due to spend two nights as a guest in the Hotel Ruze in order to lend moral support to its owner, who has come under fire for erecting a bust of former Czechoslovak president Edvard Benes in the hotel courtyard. Benes, who was president before and after the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia during World War II, issued a set of decrees that led to the post-war expulsion of up to three million ethnic Germans, also known as Sudeten Germans. Cesky Krumlov, a town in southern Bohemia, is a popular destination for tourists from nearby Austria and Germany, some of whom have taken offence to a quote by Benes inscribed below the bust, which reads: "the guilty will be purifying themselves before themselves and before the world of what they have done these years." President Klaus will in Cesky Krumlov for the opening ceremony of the town's International Music Festival, which begins Friday and continues until August 28.
The outgoing Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla visited the multi-national KFOR unit in Kosovo on Thursday. Mr Spidla was accompanied by Defence Minister Miroslav Kostelka. During the one-day visit to the Serbian province, they honoured members of the 500 member Czech-Slovak peace-keeping unit with medals, and passed on an ambulance provided by the Czech humanitarian organisation Stonozka to the village of Babin Most, where some 900 Serbians and 320 Albanians have been living together peacefully.
Czech President Vaclav Klaus says the current government crisis can be blamed on the electoral system and problematic conditions for early elections. In an article for Thursday's edition of the popular daily Mlada Fronta Dnes, Mr Klaus wrote that the electoral system was dysfunctional and added the political crisis would continue if the system is not changed. He also urged the country's leading political parties on Thursday to form a new government capable of pushing through much needed reforms. "The public expects change from the government, not just a change of faces, it has to be a change of programme, maybe even the style of governing," Klaus wrote in daily Mlada Fronta Dnes. The government led by Social Democrat Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla resigned last month.
The outgoing government on Wednesday failed to reach agreement on next year's state budget. The finance ministry proposed a deficit of 94 billion crowns but the demands made by individual ministries were 14 billion crowns higher. Finance Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said his proposal met with strong protests from all sides but he argued that a deficit 94 billion was the absolute limit. The ceiling is not set by the finance ministry - it is the result of a coalition agreement, Sobotka told the CTK press agency. The Cabinet is to meet again next week to try to reach agreement on the 2005 budget. Although the Czech Republic may have a new government by September, the three party coalition agreement on next year's budget deficit should remain valid.