Ottawa has introduced a visa requirement for Czech visitors, in response
to a rise in the number of Czech Romanies applying for asylum in Canada.
The Canadian immigration ministry informed Prague of the move on Monday
night. The Czech prime minister, Jan Fischer, called Canada’s step
unilateral and unfriendly, while his government reacted quickly, recalling
the Czech ambassador to Canada for consultations and announcing plans to
impose visa requirements on Canadian diplomats and civil servants.
The European Commission said it would not heed a Czech call for all EU states to impose a visa restriction on Canadians in solidarity with the Czech Republic. A spokesperson said the Commission regretted Canada’s decision and hoped it would be a temporary measure.
In the first half of this year Czech Romanies filed 1,720 asylum applications in Canada, twice as many as for the whole of 2008. They say they suffer discrimination in their home country, a claim backed by human rights groups.
Canada introduced a visa requirement for Czechs in 1997 following an influx of asylum seekers, before dropping the measure a decade later.
The head of the Social Democrats, Jiří Paroubek, has reacted angrily to criticism he has faced over a trip he made to Moscow last month. He was reported to have held talks with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin without informing Czech diplomats in Moscow or the foreign ministry in Prague. In a statement, however, Mr Paroubek said that the Czech embassy in the Russian capital had not offered him any help. He said that they could at least have seen Mr Putin at close quarters, which the Czech ambassador Miroslav Kostelka had not often done during three years in Moscow.
One of the most successful figures in the history of Czech show business Karel Gott is celebrating his 70th birthday. The singer, who is also popular in such states as Germany and Russia, is reported to have sold over 30 million albums in a career spanning five decades. On Monday night the man dubbed the golden voice of Prague held a birthday party at a hotel on Wenceslas Square attended by over 1,000 people, including many well known figures from Czech music and society.
The Christian Democrats have signed a pre-election pact with the European Democrats under which the two parties will contest early elections in October together, their leaders Cyril Svoboda and Jana Hybášková said in Prague on Tuesday. Candidates from the relatively small European Democrats are set to appear on the lists of the Christian Democrats, who are currently the fourth biggest party in the lower house. Some senior figures from the Christian Democrats recently left to form a new party, TOP 09.
The ombudsman Otakar Motejl has said overcrowding in Czech prisons could lead to an increase in tension and violence. In a report posted on his official website, he warned against a reduction in the number of employees in the Czech prison services. Mr Motejl said overcrowding could threaten the rehabilitation aspect of incarceration. The ombudsman’s office monitored the situation in Czech prisons at the request of the head of the country’s prison services.
Police have filed charges against a man who let off a hand grenade in a restaurant in Prague last week. The man could face up to eight years in jail after deliberately pulling the pin out of a grenade in the pub U Českého lva on Thursday. Four people were injured in the blast, while the accused sustained a serious injury to his left leg. No motive has yet been established, police said.
Czech MEP Edvard Kožušník arrived in Strasbourg on Tuesday for a plenary session of the new European Parliament on a bicycle, before entering the chamber in cycling gear. It had taken the Civic Democrat politician 13 days to make the 850 km-plus journey. Mr Kožušník said he had undertaken the long ride to raise interest in the new anti-federalist group in the European Parliament that the Civic Democrats helped found with the British Conservatives and Poland’s Law and Justice.
The Czech Republic and the Principality of Liechtenstein have agreed to normalise diplomatic relations for the first time in 17 years. The announcement was made Monday by Prime Minister Jan Fischer and Foreign Affairs Minister Jan Kohout. Mr Kohout said that the agreement would be accompanied by a memorandum proposing the creation of a commission of historians tasked with reviewing points of contention between the two countries. Until now, Liechtenstein has been the only country in the world not to recognise the Czech Republic, a situation caused by the confiscation of the Liechtenstein family’s numerous possessions in Czechoslovakia following WWII. Much of the dispute has centred on whether the famous noble family was or was not “German”, as per the post-war decrees under which their holdings in the country were seized. According to Prime Minister Fischer, the normalisation of diplomatic relations is not based upon any conditions or property concessions.
Mr Fischer and Mr Kohout also addressed the current issue of Canadian visas for Czech citizens, saying that any introduction of visas would be met with a “proportionate and duly self-confident response”. Canadian officials have said the decision on whether to reinstate visas would be announced on Monday evening. Canada eliminated visa restrictions on Czech citizens in 1997, however recent surges in asylum requests made by emigrating Romany families has caused the country to consider reimplementing the restriction.
The Czech interim government has approved a proposed Green Party bill to curtail legislators’ immunity to prosecution; the proposal is to get its first reading at parliament’s September meeting. The proposed law would allow the police to arrest members of parliament upon a breach of the law or immediately thereafter. Currently, Czech MPs who are not given up by the parliament for prosecution cannot be investigated for any criminal act committed during their tenure, even after they have left office. Two MPs have been given up by parliament during its present session: a Communist Party MP for suspicion of crimes committed during the previous regime and a Civic Democrat politician for driving under the influence of alcohol.