The lower house has also approved a bill enabling referendums to be held on a range of issues including the EU constitution. The bill that amends the constitution states the president must call a referendum if it is requested by the government, a group of at least 80 of the 200 lower house deputies, or 33 of the 88 senators, or by a petition backed by at least 300,000 citizens. The right-of-centre opposition Civic Democrats voted against the bill in the lower house and will most likely block it in the upper house (Senate), where they hold enough seats to reject new constitutional laws and amendments.
The popular Czech singer Helena Vondrackova has won her second case against a Czech tabloid paper. A Prague court ruled on Wednesday that the daily Blesk will have to pay a quarter of a million crowns (some 10,500 US dollars) to Mrs Vondrackova and her husband Michal for an article published in November 2003 claiming that he is psychologically unstable. The couple had sued for one million crowns but the court ruled that Mrs Vondrackova was to receive 50,000 and her husband 200,000 crowns in compensation. Blesk will also have to apologise and remove the article from its web site.
The lower house of the Czech Parliament (Chamber of Deputies) passed a law that bans smoking in some public places. If approved by the upper house (Senate) and signed by the president, smoking will be banned in public administration buildings, schools, cinemas, sports halls, and tram and bus stops. However, Christian Democrat deputy Josef Janecek says the law is "a victory for the tobacco lobby" as it fails to introduce a total ban on smoking in theatres, restaurants and bars, and workplaces. These places have the option of installing non-smoking areas if they want to avoid a complete ban. The law also restricts cigarette sales from January 1 next year. Cigarette sales from vending machines are banned and the shops allowed to sell cigarettes will be restricted to mainly tobacco shops and supermarkets.
Tests have confirmed the Czech Republic's 20th case of BSE, or mad cow disease. The State Veterinary Authority reported on Wednesday that the infected cow was from a herd close to the North Bohemian town of Liberec. Over one hundred cows will have to be slaughtered as a precautionary measure. Since 2001, when the first case of BSE was recorded, some 800,000 cows have been tested and 3,500 cows have been slaughtered as a precaution.
Britain's Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott held talks with the Czech Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek and Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda during a brief visit to Prague on Wednesday. The ailing EU budget for 2007-2013 and the need for a re-evaluation of spending priorities were the main topics of discussion. All three politicians also agreed that the European integration and enlargement processes must continue despite the rejections of the EU constitution by France and the Netherlands. Britain takes over the EU presidency from Luxembourg this Friday.
A new campaign called "Czechs against Poverty" was launched in Prague on Tuesday. Organised by fifteen NGOs (non-governmental organisations), it aims to show ordinary citizens and politicians how they can help reduce poverty in developing countries. While the goal is not to collect money for charity, it is to make Czechs take the initiative themselves and seek ways of helping citizens of poorer countries.
Leading Czech politicians paid tribute to Milada Horakova on Monday, 55
years after Mrs Horakova, a democratic opposition leader, was executed
by the Communists on trumped-up charges. The commemoration ceremony
took place at Prague's Memorial for the Victims of Communism, at the
foot of Petrin Hill. Among those to speak were Defence Minister Karel
Kuhnl and Senator Martin Mejstrik, the latter heavily criticising the
leadership of the communist party under Miroslav Grebenicek, suggesting
the party leader should "beg for forgiveness". Prague's Lord Mayor also
spoke saying there were still "many" who "despised democracy".
President Vaclav Klaus, who did not attend, sent a wreath that was laid at the memorial by the president's secretary. A minute of silence was held.
On this note, the Czech Defence Minister Karel Kuhnl told the CTK news agency on Tuesday that Estonia has bought the Czech Vera radar system for some 100 million crowns (a little over 4 million US dollars). The only other foreign country that has purchased the system so far is the United States. The mobile system is able to discover the presence of a different radar system and determine its type without being revealed. It can monitor up to 200 planes simultaneously and is able to define the distance and altitude of any target with great accuracy.
Renowned Czech choirmaster Bohumil Kulinsky is to remain in police
custody, where he has been since November on suspicion of sexually
abusing underage girls. Mr Kulinsky hoped he would be released after
the Constitutional Court ruled that the two extensions of custody were
in breech of the constitution and a Prague district court decided to
release him. But the state prosecution appealed the verdict, arguing
that he would influence witnesses and could even continue with the
sexual abuse. Mr Kulinsky now has to wait for the court to make a
ruling in a process that could take several weeks.
Mr Kulinsky is the director of the prestigious Bambini di Praga girls' choir. Since his arrest, over one hundred current and former choir members have come forward with accusations of sexual abuse.
The Czech Prime Minister, Jiri Paroubek, said on Tuesday that he discussed
the sensitive issue of China's human rights violations with his Chinese
counterpart Wen Jiabao. Mr Paroubek refused to disclose any details but
said the topic came up during talks on the EU arms embargo on China, an
embargo that the Czech Prime Minister stressed was an issue between
Beijing and Brussels that Prague could not influence.
Mr Paroubek, who is currently on an official visit to China, also said three agreements in the fields of the automobile industry, the environment, and finance are currently being drafted that would improve economic bilateral cooperation. According to the internet news agency Euro OnLine, Mr Paroubek declined offers by Chinese politicians to buy Czech 'Vera' radar systems.