The European Union summit in Brussels, chaired by Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer, called on Friday on the Iranian authorities to allow peaceful protests against the disputed presidential election. The summit also agreed on concessions designed to spur Ireland to ratify the Lisbon treaty. Leaders of the bloc’s 27 member states also supported the bid of Jose Manuel Barroso for another term as the president of the European Commission. The EU summit in Brussels is the last major event of the Czech presidency of the bloc; the Czech Republic will hand the presidency over to Sweden at the end of the month.
The lower house of the Czech Parliament refused on Friday to grant foreigners unlimited rights to buy Czech real estate. The limitations were imposed on foreign nationals for the period of five years as part of the accession agreement between the Czech Republic and the EU in 2004. The limits expired on May 1 but are still part of the Foreign Exchange Act. However, Social Democrat and Communist MPs voted against the government’s amendment to alter the act. Finance Minister Edvard Janota told reporters the rejection was a “scandal” as the Czech Republic will now risk sanctions from the EU. Mr Janota said he will submit the amendment to the Chamber of Deputies again.
In related news, the lower house of Parliament approved an association agreement between the EU and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The agreement is required for the future entry of the country into the European Union, and has to be ratified by all of the EU’s 27 member states. The EU has signed similar documents with Albania, Croatia, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and Serbia.
Around 7,000 secondary school students from around the country marched in Prague on Friday in protest against the government’s plan to introduce uniform school-leaving exams. Students take the exam, known as maturita, at the end of their secondary education. Until now, each school designed its own exam. The government wanted to change that from next year and introduce a standard final exam for all students at Czech secondary schools. The protesters said the project was poorly prepared, and complained they did not have enough information about study requirements for the exam. Czech Education Minister Miroslava Kopicová, who met with some of the protesters, said the project could be postponed by a year.
The two biggest Czech political parties, the Civic Democrats and the Social Democrats, are neck in neck four months ahead of the early general elections, according to a new poll by the STEM which was published on Friday. The poll suggests that both parties would gain just over 28 percent of the vote. Third in the poll came the Communists, with 12.8 percent, followed by the Christian Democrats with 6.2 percent. That party would also be the last to get into Parliament. The poll was carried out before a new party, TOP 09, formed last week. According to other public opinion surveys, TOP 09 could gain as much as 12 percent of the vote in October’s early elections to the lower house.
Czech farmers are going to block motorways around the country on June 29 in protest against low milk prices, the head of the Czech Agricultural Chamber, Jan Veleba, told the press on Friday. Czech farmers demand help from the government and the EU, and want fixed minimum milk prices to be introduced.Mr Veleba said several hundred farmers are likely to join in the protest but did not disclose which parts of the Czech highway system will be blocked.
The seventh case of swine flu in the Czech Republic was confirmed on Friday, only one day after the announcement of the last case. Czech health authorities said a 28-year-old woman who recently travelled from the United States tested positive for the H1N1 virus. The patient is in good clinical condition and is being monitored at her home.
The National Czech and Slovak Museum in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in the United States, is going to move to a new location. The museum’s director, Gail Naughton, told a local radio station that the institute would move due the high risk of floods in the area. The museum was heavily damaged by flooding in June 2008 which destroyed the library and displays about the history of Czech and Slovak minorities in the US. The museum, which was founded in 1995 and attracted some 35,000 visitors each year, is expected to re-open at the new location within three to five years’ time.
The ashes of the late singer Waldemar Matuška were interred in Prague’s Vyšehrad cemetery on Friday, after more than 12,000 people, including President Václav Klaus, paid their respect to the singer the previous day. Waldermar Matuška, one of the most popular Czech singers of the 1960s and 70s, died in his Florida home last month.