Russia and the European Union signed a deal on monitoring gas supplies through Ukraine, after talks between Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Saturday. Representing the EU presidency, the Czech leader said he would travel on to Kiev to ask the Ukrainian side to also sign up to the agreement, aimed at ending a dispute which has lead to the worst ever disruption of Russian gas supplies to Europe. Mr Topolánek, who was in Kiev on Friday, said he would remain in the region as long as needed to ensure that gas is again pumped to Europe.
Speaking about the gas supply crisis, the Czech industry minister, Martin Říman, told the news website novinky.cz that even during the cold war the Soviet Union had not toyed with western Europe in such a manner. He said previous talk on improving energy security had been somewhat academic and it was now time to begin concrete projects to ensure energy security.
The Czech Republic’s largest gas distributor RWE Transgas has begun sending four million cubic metres of natural gas a day to Slovakia, equivalent to 15 percent of the latter’s daily consumption. Slovakia is normally 100-percent dependent on gas from Russia and is one of the states hardest hit by the current crisis. A spokesperson for RWE Transgas said the Czech Republic itself had sufficient supplies and there would be no need to ration gas.
A Czech sponsored art work being unveiled at the Council of the European Union in Brussels on Monday mocks the country’s president, Václav Klaus, Lidové noviny reported. The piece is a large jigsaw puzzle of the EU, with individual countries designed by an artist from that state, the paper said. The Czech Republic’s contribution is by sculptor David Černý; against a blue background, it features a light panel showing controversial statements by Mr Klaus on subjects such as global warming (which the Czech head of state asserts is not due to the activities of mankind). Czech Deputy Prime Minister for European Affairs Alexandr Vondra defended the piece, saying art should arouse emotions and is sometimes provocative. Most of the costs of the project have been covered by one of the Czech Republic’s richest men, coal magnate Zdeněk Bakala.
The Czech presidency of the European Union has urged both sides in the current conflict in the Middle East to respect a UN Security Council resolution calling for a cease-fire. In a statement, the EU presidency expressed sincere sympathy to the families of Palestinian and Israeli victims; it repeated a call for both sides to halt their military activities immediately, saying only that would allow the delivery and distribution of humanitarian aid desperately needed in the Gaza Strip.
Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek interrupted discussions with Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Saturday to speak to the American president, George Bush, about the situation in the Middle East. Both men agreed on the need to secure a cease-fire, deliver humanitarian aid and prevent weapons being smuggled into Gaza. Mr Bush said Mr Topolánek could, representing the EU presidency, support the Palestinian Authority’s distribution of aid in Gaza.
The Christian Democrats’ Miroslav Kalousek publicly accused chairman Jiří Čunek of telling a blatant lie at a news conference on Friday evening. After Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek said he planned to replace Mr Čunek as regional development minister in a cabinet reshuffle, the Christian Democrats chairman said he should instead remove Mr Kalousek as finance minister, an idea backed by the party’s leadership. On Friday they changed tack, insisting both men be allowed to remain in cabinet; Mr Kalousek’s charge reflected a disagreement over the real reasons for that u-turn.
Four homeless men died when two wooden huts by road works on a motorway near Ostrava went on fire on Friday. Two bodies were found in one hut, which was gutted completely, with the remains of two other people found in the second, which was only partially burned down, a spokesperson for the Ostrava fire service said. The cause of the fires is being investigated and police are attempting to establish the identities of the victims of the tragedy.
Robert Holík has broken Jaromír Jágr’s Czech record for the number of games played in ice hockey’s NHL. New Jersey’s centre, who is 38, played his 1274th game on Friday, a 4:0 defeat to Atlanta. Jágr had played one fewer game before leaving the NHL for Omsk in the Russian league. Holík could have set a new Czech record some time ago, except for breaking a finger in October, an injury which meant he missed 18 games.
The Czech tennis player Radek Štěpánek has reached the final of his first tournament of the year, the Brisbane International. The eighth seed beat France’s Richard Gasquet 2-6 6-2 6-4 to set up a meeting with Spain’s Fernando Verdasco in the final on Sunday. Štěpánek, who is 30, said even though he had lost the first set, Saturday’s match had been of a very high quality.