President Vaclav Klaus has signed a bill officially ending compulsory military service in the Czech Republic as of January 1st, 2005, paving the way for a fully professional military. The decision ends a 140-year-long tradition in the Czech lands. As of 2005 all new soldiers will enter the army on a voluntary basis only, and mandatory service would only be declared during a dire threat to the country or in cases of war. With professionalisation the number of Czech military personnel will decrease from 44,000 to 35,000; of that number some 26,000 are soldiers, while a little under 9,000 are civilian employees.
European Parliament has approved a new team of EU commissioners who were
put forward by president of the Commission Jose Manuel Barroso. The vote
passed on Thursday by 449 to 149, while 82 abstained. The revised
Commission, which saw the departure of earlier nominees from Italy and
Latvia, includes former Czech prime minister Vladimir Spidla, who will be
in charge of the Social Affairs portfolio.
Among Czechs in the European Parliament the new Commission received approval from Social Democrat, Christian Democrat/European Democrat MEPs: Communist MEPs, and former television magnate Vladimir Zelezny voted against.
Following the Czech Republic's 2:0 defeat of Macedonia in the team's
final World Cup qualifier this year, football coach Karel Bruckner
hinted Wednesday he has not given up on the possibility of midfeilder
Pavel Nedved returning to the national side.
The former team captain, who was dogged by injury after Euro 2004, announced his - apparently definite - retirement from the national side in late September.
However, Mr Bruckner has now indicated he would at some point still like to meet with Mr Nedved to discuss the matter, saying it was his duty as coach to do so as long as Nedved was healthy. Still, the national side coach pointed out it was early days yet, saying arrangements had not yet even begun to be organised for the two men to meet.
President Vaclav Klaus, addressing a ceremonial meeting of the Chamber of Deputies, said the Czech Republic's communist past should not be oversimplified. He said communism was part of Czech history and was therefore part of the national identity. Mr Klaus said the best way to come to terms with the country's communist past was to be positive today, and in so doing build a society which would not allow the emergence of similar regimes.
Wreathes were laid on Wednesday at a memorial to Jan Opletal, a medical student who died on November 17, 1939. A procession to his grave in 1989 on International Students Day turned into the first demonstration of the Velvet Revolution, when students broke away from the authorized route and marched into the centre of Prague.
Meanwhile, the student demonstration which sparked the changes of 1989
was reenacted in the Czech capital, beginning at Albertov and
continuing to Narodni and later to Wenceslas Square. The march was
entitled "Podzim bez komunistu" ("Autumn without Communists"), in
protest at the present-day Communist Party.
On Wednesday evening a huge free concert called "Narodni Jinak" ("Narodni Otherwise") was held on the city centre street.
During a speech by the leader of the Communist Party, Miroslav
Grebenicek, several MPs walked out of the Chamber, as did former
president Havel. President Klaus remained seated during Mr Grebenicek's
Before the Chamber of Deputies meeting police broke up a heated demonstration outside the headquarters of the Communist Party organized by the Young Conservatives.
A number of events have been held in Prague to mark the anniversary of the
beginning of the Velvet Revolution, which led to the collapse of the
communist regime in 1989. President Vaclav Klaus, former president Vaclav
Havel and Prime Minister Stanislav Gross laid flowers at the spot where
riot police attacked a peaceful student demonstration on Narodni trida
exactly 15 years ago.
Mr Havel, the former dissident who led the Velvet Revolution and was elected president shortly after the fall of communism, was greeted by cheers of "long live Havel, long live Havel".
Other politicians and many ordinary Czechs laid wreathes and lit candles at the memorial on Narodni Street throughout the day.
The police has charged five people with trafficking in babies. According to police spokeswoman Iva Knolova further arrests may follow. Several days ago the police prevented a planned transaction at Trebic airport, arresting a doctor and young woman as they were preparing to hand over a newborn to a childless couple. The woman had a large amount of cash in her possession. According to the police spokeswoman the ringleader is a woman and the gang includes a head of department of a maternity ward. Those involved could face up to ten years in prison.
The Czech government has delayed a decision on selling its majority stake in the telecommunications operator Cesky Telecom, amidst a ministerial split on how best to proceed. Several ministers, including Prime Minister Stanislav Gross, favour a flotation on the capital markets but others claim that selling to a strategic investor would be a better long term option. A floatation of the state's 51 percent stake would bring immediate funds to the cash-strapped government. Several previous attempts to sell the government's stake in Telecom failed.