A one-day international conference on missile was held in Prague on Monday, attended by Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Rood, among others. The conference focused on American and European perspectives on missile defense and explores the possibility of incorporating a planned US radar base in the Czech Republic and an interceptor missile base in Poland into a future NATO defense system. Prime Minister Topolánek said in an opening address that he was glad to see NATO had acknowledged the fact that a missile attack by what Washington calls “rogue states” was a real threat and was ready to cooperate on defense matters with Washington.
Prague and Washington have concluded talks on the main agreement under which the Czech Republic would host a US radar base and the two sides are now finalizing the details of the so-called SOFA agreement stipulating the conditions under which around 250 US soldiers would operate in the country. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Rood confirmed on Monday that the date on which the two agreements would be signed had not yet been determined. There is speculation that the signing ceremony will take place sometime in early June. In any case both agreements will still have to be approved by the Czech Parliament.
Prague City Hall has banned a planned march by right-wing extremists in the vicinity of the Israeli Embassy in Prague on March 14th on the grounds that the venue was already booked by the Jewish community. Prague Town Hall was asked to grant permission for the march by its organizer Petr Kalinovský, who stated that its intention was “to mark the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the state of Israel”. A spokesman for Prague City Hall said the municipal authorities did not believe this to be the case, since Kalinovský is a well-known former spokesman for the neo-Nazi National Resistance movement.
A Czech daily has alleged that a secret neo-Nazi network operates in Czech prisons, giving jailed neo-Nazis financial and moral support. Hospodářské noviny broke the story on Monday claiming that it had a list of the network’s members and its alleged head Michal Kašpar, a former police officer. The daily says that neo-Nazis who are jailed for racially-motivated crimes are considered “prisoners of war” by this organization for allegedly fighting a “just cause to save the white race”. Money raised at neo-Nazi concerts allegedly goes to this organization which then sends it to the jailed members’ accounts and covers lawyers’ fees. The Czech prison service says it knows nothing about such a network.
Eleven people have died on Czech roads in the course of the past four days alone. The traffic police attribute the high death toll to aggressive driving and the fact that hundreds of Czechs allegedly drive without a license. According to the Mladá fronta Dnes daily, in the first three months of this year the police caught over 3,000 drivers without a license, many of whom had never gone to driving school or passed a drivers test. This practice is said to be particularly widespread in the country, where the chances of being stopped by the traffic police are relatively slim.
Labour and Social Affairs Minister Petr Nečas has promised an increase in pensions as of August of this year. The centre-right government approved the decision in view of the unexpectedly high inflation rate. In January and February prices increased by 7.5 percent year-on-year, in March by 7.1 percent. Pensions are annually indexed on January 1st but the planned raise has been made possible under a newly-approved amendment to the law which stipulates that pensions can be indexed whenever inflation exceeds 5 percent.
President Václav Klaus has signed into law a bill that will make both state and private companies financially responsible for any environmental damage they cause. The legislation was approved in response to numerous accidents that led to river and air pollution. In many cases negligence was to blame. The new law will bring the Czech Republic in line with EU legislation.
A Prague court has ruled on the legacy of Jaroslav Foglar, a famous Czech novelist who wrote adventure stories for children. Foglar left his entire estate, estimated to be worth around 10 million crowns (over 600,000 US dollars) to the Jaroslav Foglar Foundation. His will was contested by his nephew Petr Foglar, who said that his ninety-three-year-old uncle had been coerced into leaving his entire property to the fund, and being half blind in the years preceding his death he could not have known what he was signing. The court ruled on Wednesday, that Foglar’s last will is valid and that he had been fully aware of who he was leaving his money to.
Statistics indicate that the number of suicides and suicide-attempts in Prague is on the rise. Every 48 hours emergency crews are called to a suicide or attempted suicide. In 2007, 188 people died by their own hand mainly due to financial problems and relationships gone wrong. Psychologists say that the increasing demands on employees, the fast pace of life and the anonymity of big cities are to blame.
Leading Civic Democrat and Deputy Prime Minister Vlastimil Tlustý has suggested that the government’s church restitution plan may be illegal. The comments represent a serious blow to the government plan to compensate the church for confiscated property under the communist regime. The proposals were pushed by the coalition Christian Democrats and highlight continued infighting within the fractious coalition. Specifically, Mr Tlustý stated in an interview with Czech Television that the way the government had calculated the property or financial compensation which the church is set to receive is against the principles which underpin the concept of restitution and may be illegal. Mr Tlustý has been a consistent critic of the current plan, last week joining forces with the opposition Social Democrats and several other Civic Democrat MPs to put the brakes on the proposals as they currently stand.