Representing the Czech presidency of the European Union, the Czech minister of foreign affairs, Karel Schwarzenberg, has made an unexpected visit to Cairo to hold discussions with his Egyptian counterpart on the situation in Gaza. Mr Schwarzenberg and Ahmed Ali Aboul Gheit were expected to discuss the situation in the Gaza Strip and the chances of a cease-fire, developments that could follow a cessation of hostilities, and the provision of humanitarian aid. Egypt is attempting to broker a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian group which controls Gaza. Mr Schwarzenberg said the EU fully backed efforts for an immediate cease-fire in the strip. Earlier this month he led an EU delegation to the region, holding talks with representatives of Egypt, Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan.
The health of former Czech president Václav Havel has improved slightly, though his condition is still serious and he remains in intensive care. His doctor, Martin Holcát, said on Saturday that he was wary of expressing optimism regarding Mr Havel’s health, adding that he was making progress in small steps. The playwright, who is 72, was admitted to hospital with breathing difficulties last Sunday and underwent minor surgery to remove an abscess from his throat. There were complications following the operation due to congestion of the right lung. Much of Mr Havel’s right lung was removed when he was diagnosed with cancer in the mid-1990s.
The Czech Republic will begin sending natural gas to Slovakia at 8 am on Sunday morning, a spokesperson for the biggest Czech distributor RWE Transgas said on Saturday. Slovakia is completely dependent on gas from Russia and has received no supplies for 11 days. Gas has never previously crossed the Czech-Slovak border from west to east. Reductions in gas supply to some large industrial plants in Slovakia will come to an end on Monday, said a representative of the Slovak Ministry of the Economy.
Meanwhile, the Czech industry and trade minister, Martin Říman, said the gas supply crisis had caused irreparable and irreversible damage and a loss of confidence in both Russia and Ukraine; the two states’ disputes over payment and prices have left hundreds of thousands of people in Europe without heating.
At least 20 people, most of them homeless, have died in the Czech Republic because of cold weather this winter, the Czech News Agency reported. It said, however, that establishing exact figures was difficult as the police do not keep a record of those who die of hypothermia. The latest victims were a man of 57 who was found frozen to death on a flattened cardboard box in Prague on Friday and a man of 52 who met a similar death in Kopřivnice in north Moravia on Saturday.
Sixty-five percent of Czechs are opposed to the building of a US radar base in central Bohemia, suggests a poll carried out by the CVVM agency in December; its findings are consistent with a number of previous surveys. Nearly 8 in 10 of respondents in the new poll said they expected the Czech Parliament to approve the American radar base, which would be linked to a missile base in Poland and be part of a global missile defence shield. The Czech Senate has already approved the project, while the Chamber of Deputies is expected to vote on it in the coming months.
The Workers’ Party say they will reform under another name if the Supreme Administrative Court agrees to a government proposal to ban the small far-right grouping. Chairman Tomáš Vandas said its members would form a new organisation within a fortnight if the Workers’ Party is banned. The government says the group threatens the democratic foundations of the state and is close to ultra-nationalist organisations such as National Resistance. The Workers’ Party made headlines in November when hundreds of its members clashed with police who prevented them entering a largely Romany area of Litvínov in north Bohemia. They have announced plans for what they call a monitoring mission there next weekend.
The newest trams in use in Prague will be removed from some routes in the coming weeks. The poor condition of some tram lines in the Czech capital is being made worse by the heavy 14 T trams, say city officials. However, the company which produces the trams, Škoda Transportation in Plzeň, rejects the suggestion that its vehicles are harming tracks, saying that had not been proven.
Friday marks the 40th anniversary of the self-immolation of Jan Palach, a student who took his life in protest against the Czech public’s apathy following the Soviet-led invasion of 1968. Palach’s suicide turned him overnight into a symbol of national resistance. Several events have taken place to commemorate Palach’s death, including a special mass followed by a procession to Charles University’s Philosophical Faculty, where he was a student. There was also a gathering outside the National Museum on Wenceslas Square, at the spot where Jan Palach set himself alight on January 16 1969.