The United States plans to abolish long-standing visa requirements for the Czech Republic on November 17. The plans were announced during a visit by the US Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff to the Czech Republic on Monday. Following Mr Chertoff’s meeting with Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek, Mr Topolánek announced that the news represented a “big day” for him – visa requirements have long been a sore point of US-Czech relations. Under the new system, which will fully come into effect in January 2009, travellers to the US will have to register online at what is known as the Electronic System for Travel Authorization or ESTA system. Critics of the system argue that it is a de-facto visa requirement in that approval to travel must be gained several days before, although no fee is currently charged as is the case with US visas. That said, Czechs may have to pay several hundred crowns, according to Czech media sources.
Prague Mayor Pavel Bém has confirmed persistent speculation and announced that he will challenge fellow Civic Democrat and current Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek for the leadership of the party. The leadership challenge will occur at the party conference to be held in December, as scheduled. Citing reasons for his decision, Mr Bém stated that a recent attack by his opponent on his apparent lack of credentials was a key factor. The mayor also offered to provide his embattled party with a proverbial life raft and chart it towards new territory.
Embattled Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek has stated that his chief rival for the post of Civic Democrat party leader, Prague Mayor Pavel Bém, would not serve well in that positron. The comments were made during an interview given by the prime minister, and reflect the current uncertainties over Mr Topolánek’s future given his party’s huge defeat in recent Senate and regional elections. During the interview with the Czech daily Lidové Noviny, Mr Topolánek stated that should Mr Bém decide to challenge his leadership, he would stand against him in the contest. The prime minister has also faced criticism from Czech president and honorary Civic Democrat chairman Václav Klaus, which he shrugged off. However, he has not ruled out the option of stepping down.
Following their resounding victory in local elections, the Social Democratic Party has begun the task of trying to assemble a series of new local governments across the country. However, with the math often not providing an outright majority, the search for coalition partners has begun. In the Central Bohemian, Liberec and Southern Moravian regions, the Social Democrats are reportedly attempting to put together minority local governments as regional Civic Democrats and Communists remain hesitant to enter into coalition agreements. A number of meetings are expected to take place in the upcoming days to see if viable arrangements can be made.
A third of Czechs believe that their voting will not affect the course of the Czech Republic, suggests a new poll from the Meridian agency. According to the survey, another third of Czechs are unsure about their potential to influence Czech politics, while 2-fifths are firmly convinced that they can affect Czech politics. Further, according to the poll, around 10% of Czechs are very firmly convinced that voting is pointless, while 11% of Czechs surveyed claimed to take an active and daily interest in Czech politics, with double that figure not taking an interest.
The World Bank has called on the Czech Republic to do more to increase employment opportunities for Roma. Around half of Roma of productive age are unemployed in the country, according to World Bank statistics, something which the organisation describes as having a significant economic drag on the country. Increasing Roma employment is also viewed as a way to combat the effects of an ageing populace, which requires a greater number of immigrant workers to fill the gap. However, the recommendations face the hurdle of a government target to reduce the kind of state workers the World Bank believes are required in greater numbers to tackle the problem.
Zdena Mašinová, the sister of Ctirad and Josef, and daughter of Josef Sr. has reportedly declined to accept an award from defence Minister Vlasta Parkanová to honour her father, an anti-Nazi resistance fighter executed by the Nazis. His sons, the famous “Mašin brothers” escaped communist Czechoslovakia in the 1950s. Many view them as heroes, but some have questioned the apparently brutal way that they fought their way out of the country. The likely reason for the rejection is that technically, the Czech authorities still consider her brothers to be criminals.
An alleged killer, responsible for at least ten deaths in Slovakia and Hungary has been arrested in Prague. The man, Jozef Roháč has been sought by police across Europe including Interpol and is accused of involvement in several underworld murders in Slovakia. He is also accused of numerous firearms and explosives offences. Mr Roháč was arrested in Prague while driving under the influence. According to police, he gave false information about his identity, and it wasn’t until several hours later that police knew who they had detained.
Former Prime Minister Vladimír Špidla, currently serving as an EU commissioner in Brussels has announced that he will seek to create an EU-wide ban on smoking in the workplace. Such a ban would automatically cover public places such as pubs and bars. Bans are already in effect in several EU countries such as Britain, while counties such as the Czech Republic are dragging their feet over similar bans. At present, Mr Špidla’s spokesperson stated that no concrete law has been written yet, and that the commissioner is currently seeking support for the proposals within Brussels.
A special variety of mobile phone designed primarily for seniors is to go on sale in the Czech Republic this Friday. The phone is larger than normal mobiles, has a very large view screen and buttons and is extremely simple to operate. The move is designed to target seniors who are confused by or unable to properly see smaller and more complicated phones.