Part of an apartment building under reconstruction in the centre of Prague collapsed on Friday, with three floors caving in on an inner courtyard. Rescue crews – with the help of sniffer dogs – are trying to find four construction workers thought to be buried in the rubble. All four were working on the highest floor of the building. It was otherwise empty. So far, the only evidence of those trapped within are two construction helmets fire fighters uncovered in one area. Rescuers are operating under difficult conditions, carefully digging their way through the rubble to try and find the trapped workers.
The Czech Republic’s European commissioner Vladimír Špidla has said that Czech President Václav Klaus has ignored his constitutional duty regarding the signing of the Lisbon treaty. In an interview for the ČTK news agency on Friday, Mr Špidla suggested that the document should already have been signed, given it has been approved by both houses of Parliament. Mr Klaus, a well-known eurosceptic, has made no secret of his opposition to the treaty; he is now waiting now for a Constitutional court ruling - as well as for the outcome of the Irish referendum - before taking any next steps. In his interview for ČTK, the EU commissioner Vladimír Špidla called the country’s delay “incomprehensible”. He also said that a group of senators who came forward with a recent constitutional complaint appeared to be purposely postponing the ratification process. The Lisbon treaty has to be approved by all 27 EU states to come into effect.
In related news, as a party to proceedings the Czech president will have 14 days to respond with an assessment to the constitutional complaint put forward by the group of right-wing senators. The president’s office received a formal request from the chairman of the Constitutional Court Pavel Rychetský. As it stands, the treaty must not be ratified now until the court deals with the complaint, a process which could take several months. The caretaker government led by Jan Fischer has made clear it hopes the treaty will hit no hurdles in the Constitutional Court and eventually will be signed by the country’s president.
The new Canadian ambassador to Prague, Valerie Raymond, has said that although Canada remains committed to re-establishing visa-free relations with the Czech Republic, it will not be lifting its visa requirement for Czechs for the time being. The ambassador confirmed Canada’s position in an interview for the Czech news agency ČTK. She stressed that what was important for visa-free relations, was to avoid situations in the future where the country was again hit by large numbers of asylum claims. Such a wave from the Czech Republic led to the current visa reinstatement in July. The ambassador also indicated that Canada was looking into the efficiency of its own asylum system. Czech politicians wanted Canada to conclude a treaty on safe countries of origin which would all but preclude the granting of asylum to Czech citizens. But the ambassador said that Canadian legislation did not allow for such an agreement, pointing out that under its own laws Canada had a legal obligation to hear every refugee claim on its individual merits.
People who were thrown out of work for political reasons under the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia could receive compensation, under a new bill put forward by Social and Civic Democrat deputies. The bill passed in a first reading on Friday in the lower house. If the bill comes into law, those eligible could receive compensation of up to 2,500 crowns per month; it is estimated that the overall programme would annually cost the state 100 million crowns. Legislators would like to see a final reading before the 20th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution on November 17.
June 30 could soon be recognised as a notable day in the Czech calendar, marking the historic departure of Soviet troops from Czechoslovakia in 1991. On Friday, a bill put forward by the Greens recognising the importance of the date, was passed in a first reading in the lower house. Former Green Party head Martin Bursík said June 30 was significant because it was the day former Czechoslovakia regained independence, no longer being a Soviet satellite country. If passed into law, June 30 will by definition remain a regular working day.
The Czech internet news site iDnes has reported that the Czech military is planning on buying two sets of Ravens - remote-controlled miniature unmanned aerial vehicles (MUAV) - from the US firm Aero Vironment for 20 million crowns. The sale is to take place by the end of November, the site reported. The sale covers six planes, including logistics. The planes are to be deployed with the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) now operating in the province Logar, a military spokesman said. The Ravens are compatible within NATO, can be launched easily, and at full speed can fly up to 95 kilometres per hour. They are used largely for reconnaissance missions.
Czech football clubs lost in their second appearances in the Europa League on Thursday night. Sparta Prague went down 1:0 away against FC Copenhagen. Slavia Prague surrendered an early 1:0 lead against French club Lille to eventually go down to a humiliating 5: 1 defeat. Both Prague clubs are now at the bottom of their groups.
The Freedom Train commemorating the 20th anniversary of the departure of thousands of East Germans to West Germany from the then Czechoslovakia left Prague’s main railway station on Thursday morning. The train will retrace the historic journey with a group of former East German refugees on board. This time around it will stop at stations in what was the former communist German Democratic Republic before arriving in the Bavarian border town of Hof. Thousands of East Germans camped out in the grounds of the West German embassy in Prague in the autumn of 1989 before being given permission to leave for the West on September 30, 1989.