Former Czech president Václav Havel took part in a protest outside the
Chinese embassy in Prague on Wednesday against the imprisonment of a
Chinese dissident. Along with the cleric Bishop Václav Malý and actor
Pavel Landovský, Mr Havel attempted to hand an open letter to embassy
officials calling for the release of Liu Xiaobo, who was recently
to 11 years in jail after criticising the Chinese government. When
officials did not answer a bell at the embassy gate, the three posted the
letter in its mailbox. Václav Havel, who was himself a dissident, told
reporters that January 6 was a significant date, as it was on Three
Kings’ Day 33 years ago that the Charter 77 protest document was issued
in communist Czechoslovakia.
Meanwhile, the Czech prime minister, Jan Fischer, has asked the minister of foreign affairs, Pavel Kohout, to look into the imprisonment of Mr Liu. A spokesperson for the government said that would involve interviewing the Chinese ambassador to Prague about the subject.
Ivan Medek, who was an aide and later chancellor to President Havel, has died at the age of 84. Mr Medek was a musicologist by profession but later worked as a journalist. After signing Charter 77 he was harassed by the communist authorities until he left in 1978 for Vienna, from where he broadcast for Voice of America, Radio Free Europe and other radio stations. Mr Medek’s widow Helena issued a statement on Wednesday saying he had died of “illness and old age”. Mr Havel said he had had great respect for his late associate, describing him as a rare and dependable person.
Inspectors say that there are very few native speakers teaching languages in Czech schools at the present time. An annual schools inspectors’ report quoted by the Czech News Agency found that compared to the 1990s the number of native speakers teaching in Czech schools today is extremely low. Language lessons are frequently given by unqualified teachers, the report says. On the positive side, language lessons are being provided at increasing numbers of nursery schools, with more than half now offering at least one foreign language.
The Social Democrats continue to enjoy the greatest support among the Czech electorate, suggests a new opinion poll by the internet-based SANEP agency. In a survey conducted at the end of December and the start of this month, 27.5 percent of respondents said they would vote for the party. The right-of-centre Civic Democrats placed second in the poll with 23 percent backing. The new right-of-centre grouping TOP 09 were the choice of 12.9 percent of respondents, ahead of the Communists, who received 11 percent support. The poll indicates that no other parties would reach the 5-percent threshold to reach the lower house. The Czech Republic currently has a caretaker government after the last elected one fell last March. General elections are expected to take place in May.
The Czech president, Václav Klaus, had a New Year’s lunch with the leader of the Civic Democrats, Mirek Topolánek, on Wednesday. Speaking afterwards, Mr Topolánek said that both men had agreed on the necessity of combating the Czech Republic’s swelling public finance deficit. After also holding talks with the prime minister and the chairs of the two houses of the Czech Parliament, President Klaus will on Monday have lunch with the leader of the country’s biggest left-wing, the Social Democrats Jiri Paroubek.
A four-year-old boy was injured at the Anděl metro station in Prague on Tuesday when his foot got stuck in an escalator. The child will require surgery after sustaining a deep cut and bruising, though a spokesperson for the hospital where he was treated said there would be no permanent damage. The Prague police said it was not clear what had caused the accident. A boy was injured when his foot got stuck in the escalator at the city’s Můstek metro station in August.
Meanwhile, trains on the C or red line of the Prague metro system were halted for over an hour and a half on Wednesday morning after a dog entered a tunnel between the Ládví and Letňany stations. There have been similar cases of dogs in metro tunnels in the past, though in some cases drivers were ordered to drive slowly rather than stop completely.
The Czech football player Patrik Berger has announced his retirement at the age of 36, citing long-term injury problems. Berger, who was part of the Czech team that reached the final at the 1996 European Championship, scored 18 goals for the Czech Republic in 44 international appearances, before retiring from international football in 2001. The midfielder played for the German side Borussia Dortmund before a spell in the English Premier League where he appeared for Liverpool, Portsmouth and Aston Villa. Berger ended his career at the club where it began, Sparta Prague.
The Czech men’s tennis number one Radek Štěpánek has advanced to the quarter-finals of the Brisbane International, a tournament he won last year. However, the second seed had to survive a tight shave before beating Ukranian qualifier Oleksandr Dolgopolov Jr 5-7 7-6 6-2. Tomáš Berdych, meanwhile, beat Marcos Baghdatis of Australia 6-0 6-1. Among the Czech women, Lucie Safarova also reached the quarter- finals, after a 6-3 6-1 win over Canada's Aleksandra Wozniak 6-3 6-1.
The Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs has announced the closure of the
visa and consular affairs section of its embassy in Yemen until further
notice in the face of the increased threat of attack. The embassy itself is
still functioning. The Czech move follows similar steps taken by other
countries such as the US, France and Britain.
Yemen has come under the spotlight in recent days following reports that the man suspected of trying to blow up a US passenger plane over Christmas was trained by radical Islamists there. The Yemen government is trying to counter separatist and terrorist movements linked to Al Qaeda.