The Czech Republic is very close to reaching agreement with the United
States on increasing its military presence in Afghanistan, Czech Defence
Minister Vlasta Parkanová told reporters. The deployment of around 100
elite Czech troops would come on top of missions approved by the Czech
Parliament last autumn, under which over 400 Czech soldiers were sent to
Czech special units have already taken part in several missions in the war-torn state; two weeks ago the first Czech soldier was killed, in a suicide bombing. Minister Parkanová said if the Czech government and parliament approve the new deployment, the Czech troops will come under the US operation Enduring Freedom, not NATO. She said Czech and US officials had been conducting intensive negotiations in recent days.
Under the plan, the new contingent would take part in operations in dangerous parts of southern or eastern Afghanistan. Prague has also sent a Provincial Reconstruction Team to Logar province.
The Schengen border free system comes into effect at the Czech Republic’s airports from midnight on Saturday. The country’s border posts were abolished just before Christmas, when the Czech Republic became part of the Europe-wide system. Passengers flying to the 24 states which are members of the Schengen zone will no longer need to show their passports, though they will be required to carry some form of identification.
The Czech prime minister, Mirek Topolánek, took part in a ceremony launching Schengen at Prague’s Ruzyně airport on Saturday morning. Mr Topolánek criticised increased police checks near Germany and Austria’s borders with the Czech Republic since the latter joined the border free zone; he said he regarded the controls as harassment of tourists and a breach of the Schengen Agreement. The Brussels-based think tank Centre for European Policy said recently that some tourists coming from the Czech Republic and Poland had more difficulties crossing the border now than before Schengen enlargement.
Prime Minister Topolánek says if Russians inspectors are to be allowed
visit a planned US radar base in the Czech Republic, Moscow will have to
permit Czechs to inspect Russian facilities. He also said that the presence
of Russian officials at an American base in the Czech Republic would only
be with the agreement of the Czech government. Mr Topolánek was reacting
to comments made on Friday by Russia’s ambassador to NATO, Dmitry
Rogozin; he said Washington’s suggestion that Czechs and Russians carry
out mutual checks was a joke.
The US wants to locate a radar, part of a global anti-missile defence system, in Brdy, central Bohemia. The issue still has to be voted on the Czech Parliament.
The Brno-based Islamic Foundation says hatred and intolerance towards Muslims has increased in the Czech Republic in recent years. The group said the blame lay with the media, politicians and some interest groups, though it said some Muslims themselves were also responsible. In a statement dubbed a call to Czech society, the Islamic Foundation said it feared the day when anti-Islamic feeling escalated into physical attacks on members of the Muslim community. Around 120 Muslims attend a mosque which opened in the Moravian capital a decade ago.
An unarmed Czech police officer killed two men who attacked him in Liberia, Mladá fronta Dnes reported. A week ago the elite police officer, who is serving in a United Nations peace mission in the East African state, stopped his car to help a man who appeared to be in distress. He was then set upon by a group of men wielding machetes. He killed two of them in self-defence before making his escape, a police spokesperson told the newspaper. The Czech policeman, a martial arts expert, suffered cuts during the attack. Five Czech police officers are taking part in a UN mission aimed at increasing stability in Liberia.
Between two and three hundred people took part in a demonstration against abortion on Prague’s Old Town Square on Saturday. The protest was linked to the March 25 Day of the Unborn Child and came days after the second biggest party in the governing coalition the Christian Democrats expressed disagreement with an amendment proposed by the Health Ministry, which they say would make abortion policy more liberal. The number of pregnancies terminated in the Czech Republic has fallen significantly; while almost 150,000 abortions were carried out in 1970, last year that figure was down to 25,000.
Around 150 far-right extremists gathered at a memorial to German soldiers who died in World War II in Jihlava on Saturday. A flyer for the gathering said the Germans had been victims in the war and denied the Holocaust. One of the neo-Nazis who spoke at the gathering was taken in for questioning by police in the Moravian town.
A stamp collection belonging to the missing father of one of the Czech Republic’s most wanted men has been sold at auction for CZK 13.65 million (over USD 850,000). The collection was assembled by Lambert Krejčíř, who is presumed dead after being kidnapped in 2002. His son Radovan Krejčíř is wanted on charges of conspiracy to murder and fraud. The Czech authorities failed to have him extradited from South Africa earlier this year.
The Czech football coach Karel Bruckner will be out of action for at least five weeks after undergoing a successful operation on his upper spine. Bruckner, who is 68, will remain in hospital for almost two weeks before a period of recuperation at home. Last week he revealed plans to step down as national team manager after the European Championship this summer. The Czechs will take part in the opening game at Euro 2008 when they take on Switzerland, which is hosting the tournament with Austria.