President Václav Klaus has named new ministers to Mirek Topolánek’s
government, completing a long-awaited cabinet reshuffle. Those named on
Friday at Prague Castle include four newcomers, among them Daniela
Filipiová as health minister and Michael Kocáb (a well-known musician
public figure) as the minister for minority affairs. Cyril Svoboda, a
minister without portfolio until now, was named the minister for regional
development, while Defence Minister Vlasta Parkanová was named deputy
prime minister. A broad cabinet reshuffle was first promised by the prime
minister last October, when the coalition parties were badly defeated in
regional and Senate elections.
On Friday President Václav Klaus expressed the hope that the new cabinet would find the necessary backing in the lower house to better face the ongoing economic downturn.
Former Czech president Václav Havel, in hospital for almost a fortnight, is in markedly better shape than just two days ago, a spokeswoman for Prague's Motol Hospital revealed on Friday. She made clear that if Mr Havel’s condition continues to improve, he could be discharged from the hospital late next week. Mr Havel, who is 72, was first admitted to hospital with breathing difficulties in mid-January. He underwent minor surgery to remove an abscess from his throat but there were complications following the operation due to congestion in his right lung.
Serbia will officially apply for the membership of the European Union during the Czech EU presidency that lasts until June 30, the Serbian Deputy Prime Minister for EU Affairs Bozidar Djelic said after meeting his Czech counterpart Alexandr Vondra on Friday. Serbia is expected to be able to become an EU member around 2015. Alexandr Vondra said on Friday that Serbia’s membership in the EU was the key to the stability in the Balkans. According to the latest assessment report by the European Commission, the country needs to resolve a number of outstanding issues, among them high corruption and the need for judicial reforms.
The Czech EU presidency has said it will try to ease - if not remove - remaining barriers for citizens from newer EU countries to move freely on older members’ labour markets. Such barriers continue to affect countries which joined in 2004, including the Czech Republic. The commitment to easing conditions was made by the Labour and Social Affairs Minister Petr Nečas, at an informal two-day meeting between EU labour and social affairs ministers in southern Moravia. Belgium and Denmark have announced they will open their labour markets as of May but Germany and Austria are expected to apply restrictions until the end of April 2011. Mr Nečas insisted on Friday that member countries had no reason to continue applying restrictions during the transitional period, adding that countries that had opened their markets earlier had benefited from the step.
The Czech presidency of the European Union has praised a decision by US President Barack Obama to close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp within a year. On Thursday the new US president also banned torture in addition to his decision on the prison, a move seen as strong repudiation of the anti-terror policies of Mr Obama’s predecessor George W. Bush. In a statement, the Czech EU presidency expressed the hope that the move would strengthen transatlantic cooperation on security and counter-terrorism based on “the respect of international law and human rights”.
The west Bohemian town of Plzeň has banned a march planned for February 21, allegedly protesting the occupation of the Palestinian territories, a city official said. The march is believed to have been planned by right-wing extremists, along a route that would have seen protestors march by a local synagogue. Some 400 protestors were expected. The same day the site of the synagogue will see an event organised by Jewish community leaders. Plzeň officials proposed the radicals march run along a different route, which was reportedly rejected by the organisers. They have 15 days to appeal the ban in court.
A police representative on Friday revealed that officials have completed their investigation of former Civic Democrat deputy Jan Morava, but said no charges will be filed against him. The former deputy resigned last year after journalists uncovered an attempt by the politician to gather compromising material on a fellow MP. The authorities said earlier that they had found no evidence of blackmail or any other crime. According to TV Nova, Mr Morava tried to distribute compromising photos of Civic Democrat MP Vlastimil Tlustý in the hope of hurting him politically. Unknown to Mr Morava, the material was fake, manufactured with Mr Tlustý’s consent. Mr Tlustý was heavily criticised by the prime minister and others for his role in the affair, an apparent attempt to expose corrupt practices among politicians.
A 12-year-old boy, one of six people struck by a falling tree in the eastern town of Zlín on Thursday, has died in hospital, a spokesman for the regional emergency unit has said. The boy was one of two youngsters seriously injured when they were hit by the 20-metre tall falling tree. Four adults remain in hospital with less serious injuries. Officials say there were no clear signs of danger prior to the accident: rotted tree roots are thought to have led to the fall. The incident is being investigated.
Top Czech figure skater Tomáš Verner missed an opportunity in Helsinki on Thursday to defend the title of European champion. The skater made several key mistakes in the free skate which saw him lose any chance for a medal. Verner had been in second place following the short programme but dropped to sixth place overall. The championship title was won by Brian Joubert of France.
At a meeting chaired by the Czech EU presidency on Wednesday, European leaders called on Israel to allow humanitarian aid to flow to the Gaza Strip immediately. Speaking after the meeting, attended among others by Israeli Foreign Minister Tsipi Livni, Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg said that the EU had called on Israel to open border crossings with Gaza to allow international humanitarian organizations to do their work. EU leaders also discussed ways of preventing arms smuggling into the Gaza Strip on Wednesday. A ceasefire in the region was declared by both sides last weekend following nearly three weeks of fighting.