The Czech Police have announced new and additional measures to combat extremism in the country. The head of the riot police, Petr Sehnoutka, told reporters Tuesday that units would be receiving additional training, public order squads would be used more frequently, and new, heavy-armour units will be added in the Ústecký and Moravskoslezský regions. The police said that the further specialisation of the units was in reaction to the greater specialisation of extremist groups themselves, which Sehnoutka said are becoming more aggressive, better organised and embracing new methods. The two regions in which the new units are to be placed were chosen due to their being what the police called major bases for extremists. Currently only Prague and Brno riot police have such heavy-armour squads.
Prime Minister Jan Fischer said Tuesday that the Czech Republic is prepared to offer its assistance in mediating disputes between Israel and its neighbours in the Middle East. Speaking at a conference marking the 20th anniversary of the renewal of diplomatic relations between the Czech and Jewish states, Mr Fischer said that the Czech Republic’s experience and good relations with the countries of the Middle East could help aid international relations there. He also said that having a clear stance towards Israel would be one of the main tasks of any integrated foreign policy in the European Union, and that his country would help in building one. Relations between Czechoslovakia and Israel were frosty between the early 1950s and the fall of the Iron Curtain, since which time the two countries have developed strong economic, scientific and technological cooperation.
Parliamentarians have begun the first in a series of four special sessions of Parliament convened because January’s session ended in deadlock. Tuesday’s session was called by the Social Democratic Party in order to debate amendments to the Income Tax Act and the Criminal Code. Members will also be discussing proposals to cancel ceilings on social insurance payments and the government’s anti-corruption package. The coming days’ debates will involve primarily hot election topics, such as the left’s aim to increase maternal benefits and a call by Civic Democrats to confront allegations of corruption in the purchase of Gripen fighter jets from Sweden.
Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kohout has praised the Ukrainian elections as being in line with international standards and norms. He said that the Czech Republic was ready to talk with Kiev about issues such as energy security, the future of the EU’s Eastern Partnership accords, security issues and the integration of Ukraine in Euro-Atlantic structures with the incoming president. Viktor Yanukovych gained a slim victory in the second round presidential election vote with 48.83 percent of votes. His main rival, Yulia Tymoshenko, had 45.59 percent.
Deputy chairman of the Christian Democratic Party, David Macek, has resigned from his position for family reasons. Party chairman Cyril Svoboda has called upon the regional offices to propose a replacement. Mr Macek said Tuesday that he would remain in the party background, but that he was seeking more time and energy for his family and church than the time constraints of his position allowed for. He is currently expecting a second child. Mr Macek, who has been a deputy chairman since 2006, will in his own view likely be replaced by a representative from the party’s strongest office in the region of South Bohemia.
After several days of heavy smog in the far east of the Czech Republic, conditions have worsened in the capital as well. Prague monitoring stations on Tuesday moved the air-quality rating to five on a scale of six, with inversion preventing an improvement. 14 out of 15 stations in Prague reported that flue dust levels had exceeded the limit as of Tuesday evening. Meanwhile, a station in the industrial area of Třinec has recorded flue dust levels of seven times the limit, which is 50 micrograms per cubic metre; polluters in that region were ordered to reduce production. Senior citizens, children and the chronically ill have been advised to restrict their time out of doors in the areas in question.
A poll published by the agency Factum Invenio suggests strong biases among many Czechs against sharing a neighbourhood with people of specific ethnicities. In response to the question “who would you not want as a neighbour”, 76% of respondents replied “definitely not” or “maybe not” in regards to a hypothetical Romani neighbour. Such responses were also high in regards to Arabs (60%) and respondents were mostly split when asked about Ukrainians and Vietnamese. 40% said they would not want an Israeli as a neighbour, while 18% said they would not want a Jew. The study, which was released at Tuesday’s conference marking the 20 years of diplomatic ties with Israel, suggested that 70% of Czechs had a positive attitude towards Jewish cultural heritage, while 53% perceived Israeli culture positively.
New radar scans conducted in the Church of St. Haštal in Prague have ignited anticipation that a hole in the floor near the altar may hold the lost remains of St. Agnes of Bohemia. The scans showed a crevice bearing a slab that corresponds to the dimensions of the tomb being sought, though the surveyor emphasised that the result was in no way conclusive of anything definite. Interest in the church became intense in November of last year, when an initial radar scan was said to show a casket beneath the altar. The current scan showed similar results, though in a slightly different location. The respective parish has said it would like the part of the floor in question to be raised as soon as possible so as to clear up the speculation. The remains of the 13th century saint were allegedly hidden during the Hussite Wars and have never been found. St. Agnes was canonised by Pope John Paul II just before the Velvet Revolution, and is considered a symbol of that event.
The Czech president, Václav Klaus, met with his Egyptian counterpart Hosni Mubarak on Monday during a three-day visit to Egypt. According to Mr Klaus’ office one of the points discussed was the prospect for a major exhibition of Egyptian archaeological finds at Prague castle within the next two years. The Czech President also invited Mr Mubarak to the Czech Republic with hopes raised that the visit could occur this year. The Egyptian president last visited in 1994. Talks also covered trade relations and relations between Israel and Palestine. Mr Klaus was also due to take part in a signing of the Arabic version of his book Blue Planet in Green Shackles, which questions the belief that mankind is responsible for global warming.
Former Czech President Václav Havel has been forced to cancel his engagements for the coming days because of breathing difficulties, his office announced on Monday. Spokeswoman Sabina Tančevová said Mr Havel was taking antibiotics to counter respiratory problems. Havel was due on Monday to take part in a press conference of a new book by journalist Karel Hvižd’ala which includes interviews with Havel and fellow communist era dissident Pavel Landovský. Mr Havel, a former heavy smoker whose health suffered during imprisonment under the Communist regime, had part of his right lung removed in the late 1990’s when cancer was diagnosed.