The American Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice is set to visit Prague in early May to sign a Czech-American agreement on siting a US tracking radar on Czech soil. A spokesperson for the American Embassy made the announcement to journalists, but would not disclose the exact date of the treaty’s signing. There has already been some speculation that the signing of the accord will coincide with a conference on missile defence to start in Prague on May 5. Even after the deal is signed, the treaty will still need to be approved by the Czech Parliament and signed by President Václav Klaus. Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg has been elected to sign the treaty on behalf of the Czech Republic.
The Health Minister Tomáš Julínek has unveiled plans to streamline the country’s health insurance system, proposing the privatization of all health insurers except VZP – the biggest state-owned insurance provider. Around 60% of Czechs are currently insured by VZP, while the remaining 40% are insured by a mixture of state and privately-owned insurance companies. Mr Julínek’s plans have come under fire from the opposition Social Democrats, who say that the privatization of state-run health insurers could lead to private insurers siphoning off public money. But Mr Julínek responds that privatization is required to increase cost-efficiency, saying that at the moment, health insurance companies are ‘unable to fulfill their role, which is to protect their clients’. The plans will be discussed by the cabinet on Wednesday.
The German Embassy in Prague has spoken out against claims made by Czech PM Mirek Topolánek that police checks near the Czech-German border are tantamount to ‘bullying’ and ‘a breach of Schengen protocol’. The Czech Republic joined the Schengen zone in December last year, and since that time, Czechs have been enjoying passport free travel over the border to Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Poland. Border checks have given way to random checks within a 30 kilometre radius of the Czech Republic’s borders with its neighbours, including Germany. A report recently published by the Centre for European Policy Studies suggested that German police were targeting Czechs and Poles in particular in their checks. Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek condemned German police on the basis of this report at a Schengen-related event at the end of March. But on Monday, the German Embassy responded that checks by police and customs officials along the EU internal border were ‘useful and important’.
The Czech trade surplus rose to 14.3 billion CZK (898 million USD) in February, up from 12.9 billion CZK in the same month last year, the national statistics office said on Monday. The rise was mainly owing to stronger sales of machinery and transport equipment, coupled with a narrowing of the deficit in food and a turnaround from deficit to surplus in sales of drinks and tobacco, the office said. The trade balance was in surplus to the tune of 26.5 billion crowns in the first two months of the year, a 3.8-billion crown improvement on the same period last year.
Flights out of Prague airport were grounded and incoming flights were diverted on Monday morning due to low visibility caused by thick fog. The Czech airline ČSA said it was forced to cancel nine flights, and redirect another 11 to the Czech Republic’s second city Brno, and Dresden, Germany. The fog reduced visibility to around 200 metres, which is less than half the minimum required for the airport to function normally. An airport spokesperson said that after hours of disruption, a normal service resumed around 0640 GMT, but with a backlog of delayed outgoing flights. Prague’s Ruzyně airport said that flights were running to schedule again by late Monday afternoon.
Tickets went on sale for former president Václav Havel’s much anticipated new play ‘Odcházení’ (‘Leaving’) on Monday. The first rehearsals of the production also got underway at Prague’s Divadlo Archa. The play will be premiered on May 22, with subsequent performances on the 23 and 24. The premiere was originally expected to have taken place much sooner, but production of the play was delayed when negotiations with several theatres broke down. Talks with the National Theatre collapsed in part over Mr Havel’s insistence that his wife play the female lead. The play was also withdrawn from the capital’s Divadlo na Vinohradech, before finding a home at Divadlo Archa.
The Czech mountain rescue service was called out nearly twice as much this winter season as it was in 2006-2007, it was revealed on Monday. In the period spanning December 1 2007 to April 6 2008, the mountain rescue service was called out on 6365 occasions, as opposed to 3828 times the previous season. While there was less natural snow this winter than last, icy weather made ideal conditions for the manufacture of tonnes of fake snow. According to a spokesperson for the mountain rescue service, this artificial snow at the country’s ski resorts made for difficult skiing conditions. There were two casualties in the course of the winter season, both were skiers in the Krkonoše Mountains, and both fatal accidents took place this February.
Prague’s Charles University, the oldest university in Central Europe, is celebrating its 660th anniversary on Monday. On this day in 1348, King Charles IV issued an edict calling for the university’s foundation. To mark the anniversary, a special ceremony is being held in Prague’s Carolinum, at which four honorary doctorates are being bestowed. Those receiving recognition include Dutch lawyer Johan Ankum, British pharmacologist Salvador Moncada, Czech philosopher Ivan Chvatík and Japanese physicist Teruo Kishi.
Chelsea and Czech national goalkeeper Petr Čech underwent facial surgery on Sunday following a training ground accident which left him with cuts to his lip and chin, a spokesperson for the Blues said Monday. On its website, Chelsea FC wrote that it ‘hoped to have Petr back playing as soon as possible’. The Czech Republic international has not played since March 1 because of an ankle injury, with Italian Carlo Cudicini standing in. Last season, Čech was out of action for three months after suffering a fractured skull from a collision with Reading’s Stephen Hunt. He now wears a rugby-style protective skull cap whenever he plays.
Czech tennis star Tomáš Berdych has climbed to ninth place in the world tennis rankings, having made it through as far as the semifinal in the recent Miami Masters. This position sees Berdych equaling his personal lifetime best. Compatriot Ivo Minář has also climbed up the rankings to 74th place, while Radek Štěpánek – Czech tennis’s number two, dropped to 28th place.