The government on Monday approved a new bill on the army’s foreign missions in 2009. The move comes after the lower house of Parliament in December rejected the government’s proposal to increase the number of Czechs troops serving abroad. The new bill envisages cutting back on the number of Czech troops, particularly in Afghanistan, in the hope that it will win approval across the political spectrum. Under the plan, a maximum of 480 soldiers would be deployed in the ISAF peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan and up to 100 would take part in the US-led operation Enduring Freedom. The number of soldiers in the Provincial Reconstruction Team in the Afghan province of Logar would be 275. The soldiers’ mandate expired in December, but the government used its constitutional right to prolong the missions’ mandate by another two months, until the end of February.
The European Commission on Monday lowered its forecast of Czech economic growth for this year to 1.7 percent, in comparison to a projected increase of 3.6 percent predicted in the autumn. In 2010 however, the Czech GDP growth should increase to 2.3 percent. The European Commission also predicts that Czech exports will drop considerably from last year’s 7.8 percent to less than 1 percent this year. The unemployment rate is expected to increase to over 6.5 percent in 2010.
The health of former Czech president Václav Havel, who was hospitalized with a lung inflammation last Monday, remains serious and he is to stay in intensive care for at least another week. Václav Havel was hospitalized last week, after complaining of breathing difficulties. He underwent minor surgery which was followed by complications. He is reported to be suffering from respiratory problems caused by a congestion of the right lung, part of which was removed in 1996 when he was diagnosed with cancer.
Czech President Václav Klaus has called on the government to distance itself from ‘Entropa’, the controversial artwork the Czech Republic selected to represent the country’s EU presidency. His letter was released on Monday on the website of the weekly Euro. ‘Entropa’, created by Czech artist David Černý, uses national stereotypes to depict each of the EU’s 27 member states. Bulgaria has sharply protested against being portrayed as a Turkish style toilet and wanted the image removed by this Monday. While President Klaus apologised to his Bulgarian counterpart, the map of Bulgaria still remains to be part of the installation.
The popularity of Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek is growing, suggests a poll conducted by the STEM agency. The results of the poll indicate that the prime minister’s popularity rate has increased by around 10 percent; he currently enjoys the trust of 30 percent of respondents. The popularity ladder is headed by Bohuslav Sobotka, vice chairman of the Social Democrats, followed by Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg and Prague Mayor Pavel Bém. According to the results of the STEM survey, the popularity of PM Topolánek and other ministers has been growing mainly due to their active involvement in the EU presidency.
A Brno policeman could face up to 15 years in prison after allegedly beating a Vietnamese prisoner to death. Hoang Son Lam was arrested following a raid on his house. He was taken into detention and severely beaten; two of his ribs were broken and his spleen ruptured. He died the next day. Two other officers have been charged with abuse of office, having failed to report Mr Lam’s injuries until the following day, when it was too late. All of the policemen in question were released on bail on Sunday pending trial. Interior Minister Ivan Langer has distanced himself from the incident calling it an ‘isolated case’.
Opponents of the Czech Communist Party on Monday demanded that Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek and the government support the proposal of the Senate to outlaw the Communist Party. They handed to the Government Office a letter with their requests along with a petition signed by nearly 60.000 signatures. The organizers of the petition claim that the Communist Party’s programme and documents violate the constitution.
The government on Monday approved the terms of the sale of the Czech national airline ČSA. Its price is estimated at around 5 billion crowns (approximately 240 million US dollars). The new owner should be known by the end of September. The terms of the sale specify that the investor will have to use Prague Airport as a home airport. Russia’s Aeroflot and Czech Travel Service have openly expressed interest in buying Czech Airlines.
The Czech football player Petr Čech has been named the eighth best goalkeeper of the past twenty years by the International Federation of Football History and Statistics. The 26-year old player has placed in the top four places over the past five years and won the Best Goalkeeper of the Year award for 2005. The winner of the poll is Italy’s Gianluigi Buffon. The rankings take into account players from 1990 onwards.
Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek and Foreign Minister Karel
Schwarzenberg met Israeli Premier Ehud Olmert on Sunday evening alongside
other EU and Middle Eastern leaders to discuss the crisis in Gaza. Messrs
Topolánek and Schwarzenberg represented the EU at a summit in Egypt’s
Sharm el-Sheikh earlier on Sunday, which rallied international support for
the fragile truce called by Israel and Hamas, and which stepped up pressure
on Israel to withdraw its troops from the Gaza Strip. The summit, organized
by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, convened as Palestinian armed groups
offered a one-week truce in response to the unilateral ceasefire declared
by Israel overnight. The Czech delegation at the Sharm el-Sheikh summit
said that it could organize a donor conference on behalf of the EU to raise
funds for the desperate humanitarian needs of the 1.5 million population of
On Sunday morning, the Czech EU presidency released a statement welcoming news of an Israeli ceasefire and urging Israeli forces to end their blockade of Gaza.