Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg and his Slovak counterpart Jan Kubis agreed in Prague on Friday to jointly continue efforts to obtain visa-free admission for Czech and Slovak citizens visiting the United States. The US still has to take several steps towards changing its visa regime that could result in the lifting of entry visas for Czechs and Slovaks, Mr Schwarzenberg said. Earlier this week, US senators approved the proposal; now the legislation will be debated in the House of Representatives.
The European Social Democrats - including representatives from the Czech Republic and Poland - have rejected the idea of US anti-missile defence bases being deployed on Czech and Polish territory. The representatives met on Friday. Martin Hasek - the head of the Social Democratic party's deputies' group in the Czech Republic made clear that such a proposal would only be acceptable within a NATO framework. The US has formally requested both Poland and the Czech Republic to host missile and radar bases on their territory, part of a system aimed at preventing potential missile attacks by rogue states.
On Saturday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov again warned against the placement of US bases in central Europe as part of a broader US defence shield. He said that the project would have a negative impact on relations between Russia and NATO. It is widely expected that the proposed US shield will be the main issue for discussion at the NATO-Russia Council meeting set for next month.
Around one hundred right-wing extremists demonstrated in the Moravian town of Blansko on Saturday, monitored by around fifty Czech police. The demonstrators reportedly gathered to protest against a small Mongolian minority of around four hundred in the town, many of whom are employed at a local firm. One of the extremists was reportedly arrested for giving the banned "Hitler salute". The protest was otherwise without incident.
According to the Czech daily Mlada Fronta Dnes, Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek is going to present a proposal to the government introducing a flat income tax rate of 15 percent as part of planned reforms. He is expected to put forward the proposal in two weeks time. The rate is lower than was previously expected. Currently the amount of income tax one pays in the Czech Republic depends on one's overall yearly earnings and those are rated along a four-point scale. Mlada Fronta Dnes points out that the new rate, if approved, will most benefit those earning incomes upwards of 35,000 crowns per month. At the same time, the finance ministry has said that under the proposal it will raise tax allowances. If the government backs the plan and it finds backing in the Lower House of Parliament, the changes could come into effect in 2008.
Czech tennis player Martin Damm and doubles partner Leander Paes of India have made the doubles final at Indian Wells, in the United States. On Friday the two defeated the Swedish-Belarusian duo of Bjorkman and Mirnyj 12:10 in a so-called supertie-break. Damm and his partner will now face Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram of Israel for the championship title.
In related news, the village of Trokavec near Brdy, central Bohemia (the region slated for the possible US radar base) has held a local referendum on the issue. The village of one hundred inhabitants began voting on Saturday morning, with 90 percent having cast their ballot by two in the afternoon. All indications are that most residents voted "against". In the referendum locals were asked to vote either "for" or "against" town representatives trying to block the US proposal. Neighbouring villages in the area are also expected to hold their own referenda on the issue in the coming weeks.
Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek has said the Czech Republic should sign up to the International Criminal Court and end what he has called the "barely sustainable position" of being the only EU state not to have done so. Speaking in Parliament on Thursday, Mr Topolanek said the Czech Republic should sign up to the treaty by the time it takes over the EU's presidency in 2009. MPs from Mr Topolanek's own Civic Democratic Party voted down a proposal to sign up to the statute creating the Hague-based court in 2001 because of fears that it would leave Czechs open to international prosecution. The Czech foreign ministry has admitted to the country's current position being an embarrassment.
The wider Christian Democrat leadership - 53 out of 56 members on Friday - expressed support for embattled party leader Jiri Cunek, facing corruption charges. Mr Cunek himself abstained from taking part in the vote. Mr Cunek, who is also a deputy prime minister, has been accused of accepting a bribe of 500,000 crowns. He has so far refused to step down. Earlier this week Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek said that mounting public pressure was likely to eventually force Mr Cunek to leave the cabinet.