The US House of Representatives has approved cuts in defence spending
despite a White House veto threat which – if passed - would impact US
missile defence, including plans for a US radar base in the Czech
The amount of the cuts: 700 million US dollars. The US administration has
been negotiating for ten interceptor rockets to be housed in Poland and a
radar base in the Czech Republic, to counter the threat of so-called rogue
states; cuts in funding on missile defence, the White House has said,
jeopardise US security. It objected to the bill over a number of
provisions, saying advisors would recommend President Bush use the
presidential veto if they remained.
Just this week the Czech government announced it had agreed on a treaty on a US radar base being stationed in the country. The agreement is expected to be signed in late June/early July.
Serbia has summoned home its ambassador to Prague for consultations in Belgrade. The move was taken following the decision by the Czech government to recognise the independence of Kosovo – the former Serb province - this week. On Friday the Czech foreign ministry revealed that Serbia's government had also lodged a formal protest with the Czech government. The Serb ambassador’s withdrawal is only expected to be temporary; earlier Serbia recalled ambassadors from other countries that officially recognised Kosovo.
In related news, Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek and other Czech
politicians expressed the hope on Friday that the government’s decision
to recognise Kosovo would not hamper traditionally good relations between
the Czech Republic and Serbia. Mr Topolánek said that Belgrade's decision
to withdraw its ambassador from Prague was understandable. But he stressed
he firmly believed in the continuation of "very good relations"
between the two countries.
The opposition Social Democrats and the Communists have been critical of the move, saying that the recognition of Kosovo's independence would have negative consequences. A spokesman for President Václav Klaus, meanwhile, said the president was surprised by the government's decision concerning Kosovo. Later on Friday the president received Ambassador Vladimír Vereš at Prague Castle on Friday - a surprise move. Diplomatic circles reportedly see the meeting as a gesture of reassurance of how highly Prague values continued good relations with Serbia.
The head of the Czech Doctors' Trade Union called on the government on Friday to stop reforms by Health Minister Tomáš Julínek which aim to see health insurance companies and teaching hospitals transformed into joint-stock companies. On Thursday, the leadership of the Czech Doctor's Chamber made a similar appeal. The Doctors’ Union chairman Martin Engel revealed that union leaders on Friday had also called on doctors to support a one-hour strike planned for June 24, which would limit the operation of medical facilities but would not prevent acute treatment.
In related news, Prague’s Charles University will stop courses at its medical facilities if the health minister successfully pushes through transformation of university hospitals into joint-stock companies. A spokesman for the institution made the statement on Friday, saying a resolution on the subject had been passed by the university’s academic senate. Health Ministry spokesman Tomas Čikrt responded by saying the step amounted to blackmail, adding the move was exaggerated as the legislation was currently only under discussion. Along with universities, the opposition Social Democrats and Communists oppose the planned reform. In addition, the idea has also come under criticism from the two smaller parties in government, the Greens and the Christian Democrats. Students of medical faculties, meanwhile, protested against the planned changes earlier this week.
Czech Cardinal Miloslav Vlk was released from hospital on Friday, where he had spent two weeks recovering. He was admitted after suffering heavy exhaustion. He will continue his recovery now at a spa town in southern Bohemia. Last Saturday the cardinal celebrated his 76th birthday. He was recently actively involved in the talks on the government bill on a property settlement between the Church and state, as well as in the court dispute over the ownership of the Prague St Vitus’ Cathedral.
Václav Havel’s "Leaving", the playwright and former president’s first play in two decades, premiered successfully on Thursday evening at Prague’s Archa Theatre. The staging has already received praise from a number of Czech critics. On the eve of premiere, Mr Havel, 71, joked he had never seen so many journalists - who got a sneak preview – at a cultural event. "Leaving" is directed by David Radok and stars Czech-born actor Jan Tříska in the role of a top politician leaving office. Zuzana Stivínová replaced actress Dagmar Havlová, Mr Havel’s wife, in the play after she withdrew citing overwork. An English-language staging of the play is being prepared for this autumn at London’s Orange Tree Theatre.
Czech Unions have warned that public transport will grind to a halt in many Czech towns during a one-hour strike to be staged in June in protest of government reforms. The head of the Bohemian and Moravian Transport Workers' Union Jan Rejský made the announcement on Thursday. He stressed there are around 10,000 union members in public transport, half of whom are expected to take part in the strike. It is unclear whether the protest will also be staged in the Czech capital. The trade unions have accused the government of taking measures that, given current inflation has led to the fall in real wages in education, health care, and the public sector.
The world premiere of Václav Havel’s first play in two decades is taking place in Prague on Thursday night. Odcházení (Leaving) is being staged at the city’s Archa theatre, after plans to put it on at two other theatres fell through. It was due to feature Mr Havel’s actress wife Dagmar, but she pulled out saying she was overworked. Václav Havel, who is 71, was a world renowned playwright before becoming president of Czechoslovakia in the wake of the Velvet Revolution of 1989.
The president of the European Commission, Jose Barroso, has praised the
Czech Republic’s preparations for its presidency of the European Union in
the first half of next year. Speaking after talks in Prague with the Czech
prime minister, Mirek Topolánek, Mr Barroso said Mr Topolánek had very
clear ideas about the main priorities for the Czech presidency. The
Commission president said the Czech Republic would be heading the EU in a
key period when it was forming new rules on its operation under the Treaty
of Lisbon. Mr Topolánek said he was confident all 27 members would have
ratified the reform document by the end of this year, paving the way for
its implementation during the Czech presidency.
The Portuguese Commission president and Mr Topolánek also discussed the upcoming Euro 2008 football tournament, where their two countries will meet in the group stage. Mr Barroso said the game would feature the two best teams in the world.