Over 250 Czechs have applied for asylum in Canada since Ottawa introduced visa-free travel for Czechs five months ago, the Canadian Embassy in Prague said on Monday. Ottawa imposed travel restrictions on Czechs in 1997, in reaction to a flood of asylum seekers. It eventually lifted them ten years later, on November 1, 2007. In the first five months of visa-free travel, 261 Czechs have sought asylum in Canada. But the Canadian Embassy said on Tuesday that there was no risk of Ottawa re-introducing visa requirements in light of the figures. The Czech Republic does not yet enjoy permanent visa-free relations with Canada, but a spokesperson for the Czech Foreign Ministry said that the two governments were closely cooperating on the matter.
The Cuban press has accused the Czech ambassador to the United States of working for the CIA, writes Hospodářské noviny on Tuesday. The paper Granma Internacional claims that Petr Kolář was selected and recruited by the CIA in the late 1980s. The Czech Foreign Ministry has responded by saying that the claims are ‘nonsense’ and deserve no further reaction. The Czech Republic has long been a strong critic of Fidel Castro’s regime. The Czech ambassador in the US, Petr Kolář, recently told an American newspaper that Cubans should ‘take the situation into their own hands’ and strive for regime change.
The Prague-based broadcaster Radio Free Europe has said that several of its websites had been attacked on Monday, suggesting that the Belarussian government could be to blame. The network said in a statement that the assault had begun on Saturday and had not yet been countered. Radio Free Europe’s Belarussian service has been the worst affected by the bug, though web sites serving Iran, Russia and Azerbaijan have also been hit. The station moved its headquarters to Prague from Munich, Germany, in 1995. It broadcasts in 28 languages to 21 countries including, most recently, Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Politicians signed a memorandum on Tuesday which pledged to redirect Prague’s ‘Magistrála’ – a main traffic artery which leads through the heart of the capital. Transport Minister Ales Řebíček, Prague Mayor Pavel Bém and Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek all put their signatures to the document. The plan is to shift the motorway, which currently cuts across the top of Prague’s Wenceslas Square, underground, and to scale down its capacity. Prague City Hall has said that the memorandum is by no means binding, but that it would like to see the project realized by 2014.
The Czech Foreign Ministry has said that US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice will not be visiting Prague next week at least in part because Czech officials would not have enough time to speak to her about important matters. It was announced on Monday that Mrs Rice, who was due to arrive in Prague on May 5 to sign an agreement paving the way for a US radar on Czech soil, would not have the time to visit. But on Tuesday, the Czech Foreign Ministry said that on that date it would be playing host to NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and so it would not have time for talks with Mrs Rice. The treaties which Mrs Rice was expected to sign next week have been shelved until June, Czech Prime Minsiter Mirek Topolánek said Monday.
Prague’s equivalent of London’s Hyde Park, where demonstrations can be held without a permit, will remain Palackého náměstí, Rudolf Blažek from Prague City Hall said Tuesday. The city hall was considering moving the capital’s speaker’s corner to Letná in Prague 6 or Vypich in Prague 7. But councilors in both of these districts were unhappy with the proposals and so no such move will be made, Mr Blažek said. The council has, however, extended the number of days on which a permit will be needed to protest on the square. Those wishing to stage a demonstration on May 1, September 28, October 28 or November 17 must now seek approval to do so in advance.
In related news, police have said that they will be deploying more than 1000 officers to monitor the 35 events scheduled to mark May Day in Prague this year. A police spokesperson said that the majority of officers would be sent to monitor a meeting of far-right extremists on Střelecký Ostrov, and a demonstration on Wenceslas Square, being held by supporters of the Czech Communist Party. According to the Czech police, the number of events being staged this year is particularly high because the Prague Jewish Community alone will be organizing some 20 or so rallies in the vicinity of the town’s historic Jewish Quarter. Jewish groups are staging so many events so as to prevent other groups, especially neo-Nazis, from holding rallies in the city’s Jewish district.
The Czech crown jewels are being packed away on Tuesday, having been on public display for the last ten days. Over the last week and a half, over 30,000 people have visited Prague Castle to view the crown jewels, which only go on display on special occasions. This year, the jewels were shown to mark the 90th anniversary of an independent Czechoslovakia and President Václav Klaus’s re-election. Seven representatives of church and state gathered ten days ago to unlock the safe in which the jewels were held, they will meet again on Tuesday evening to return the crown jewels to their protective chamber within Prague’s Saint Vitus’ Cathedral.
The national airline CSA and Prague airport Letiště Praha could be privatized at the same time, the daily E15 wrote on Tuesday, citing Deputy Finance Minister Ivan Fuksa. Mr Fuksa told the paper that the government was willing to adopt a more flexible approach to the privatization of the two state assets, and would consider selling both companies at the same time. Czech private equity group Penta Investments as well as Indian industrial conglomerate Essar, in a joint venture with Germany’s Hochtief, are among the potential bidders in both companies, the daily said. Analysts say the airline’s value is between 4 billion and 6 billion crowns, while the state’s 92-percent stake in the airport is expected to generate between 80 billion and 100 billion crowns.
Former Czech international Ivan Hašek has rejected the job of Czech national football team coach in no uncertain terms. Mr Hašek was asked to take over when Karel Brückner stands down after Euro 2008. But on Monday he released a statement, which said that he had ‘absolutely no interest whatsoever’ in the job. Hašek’s snub follows a similar rejection last week from Slavia Prague coach Karel Jarolím. With Hašek and Jarolím both out of the picture, attention now turns to FK Teplice coach Petr Rada and Vitězslav Lavička, manager of the Czech Republic’s Under 21 side.