President Miloš Zeman and Foreign Minister Lubomír Zaorálek debated key foreign policy challenges in the year ahead at Lány Chateau near Prague on Saturday. At a press briefing following the talks Minister Zaorálek said they had agreed on the need to build a good working relationship with the new US administration, and stressed the importance of a functional European Union. Other issues discussed were the fight against terrorism and security issues. The talks are part of regular consultations on foreign policy between the government and president. President Zeman, who openly supported US president elect Donald Trump during his election campaign has received an invitation to the White House in April.
The Czech Veterinary authorities have confirmed the first case of bird flu in Prague. The deadly H5N8 virus was confirmed in a dead swan found on the banks of the Vltava River in Prague 7. No special measures will be taken for the time being in the Czech capital. The bird flu has been confirmed in six other locations in the Czech Republic. Thirteen thousand birds have been slaughtered since the first case was confirmed just over a week ago to try and prevent the spread of the disease.
Several dozen people turned out to bid a symbolic goodbye to US Ambassador to Prague Andrew Schapiro who is due to leave his post following the election of Republican Donald Trump to the White House. The group assembled close to Charles Bridge, giving the ambassador a rendition of the popular polka Škoda lásky and singing Goodby Andrew, a song composed in his honour. The ambassador was not present due to other engagements. His fans said they would post the goodbye songs on Facebook for him to see. Andrew Schapiro was appointed ambassador to the Czech Republic by outgoing U.S. President Barack Obama. He took up the post in September 2014.
The Czech Republic is to contribute 3 million crowns towards restoring Syria’s war damaged cultural heritage in 2017. Selected items are to be restored at the laboratories of the Czech National Museum, but the money will also be used to finance equipment and restoration work in Syria. Last year the Czech government earmarked 200 million crowns in aid to Syria to be used both for humanitarian aid and other forms of assistance between now and 2019.
In the course of 2017 Czech nationals will be able to travel to Kazakhstan for up to 30 days without a visa, the Czech Foreign Ministry announced on its web page. Kazakhstan has eased travel restrictions for Czechs and other EU nationals in order to facilitate participation at the 2017 World Expo which is to take place in Kazakhstan from June 10 until September 10. Forty-seven states will be represented at the expo which is expected to attract over 5 million foreign visitors.
The Czech Republic is suing the European Commission over the new denaturated alcohol guidelines that are to come into effect as of August 2017. The government is thus hoping to prevent the new guidelines coming into force. The EC regulation was approved in order to reduce fraud and administrative burdens caused by too many national denaturing processes, of which there are currently over 150. The EC claims the new unified formula introduced is irreversible. However according to Czech experts the new “Euro” formula is not only easily reversible, creating space for fraud, but is three to four times as expensive as the current denaturing compositions used.
Heavy snow and strong winds are complicating traffic around the country. The situation is reported to be particularly bad in the Krusné Hory Mountains in the north-west of the country where several roads are closed and others are barely passable due to snowdrifts. The Pilsen region also reports serious problems and even drivers on the Prague ring road have been warned to expect complications and delays. Drivers setting out on longer journeys have been advised to make sure they have enough petrol, hot tea and blankets. More heavy snow is expected in the course of the day.
A Czech soldier has been awarded a European medal for service to security and defence goals. The medal was given to the sergeant for his actions during an attack on Czech troops stationed in Mali last year. He took a leading role in defending a hotel in Bamako which came under armed gun and grenade attack by insurgents. He is the first Czech soldier to be given such an award, the highest for a soldier on an EU mission. Czech soldiers have been tasked with protecting the EU’s training mission in Bamako.
President Miloš Zeman has invited Pope Francis to visit the Czech Republic in June this year to mark the 75th anniversary of the Lidíce massacres. Around 20 Czechs from the village north of Prague were executed in a reprisal for the assassination of the Nazi acting governor of Bohemia and Moravia, Reinhard Heydrich, in 1942 by Czechoslovak parachutists from Britain. The village was razed to the ground and children and mothers sent to concentration camps. Altogether 340 people from Lidíce perished by the end of the war. Zeman explained in a letter to the pope that the event was highly symbolic for the Czech Republic.