On a 4-day state visit to Canada that is due to end on Monday, Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda told reporters that there is no reason Canada should continue to insist on visas for Czech tourists. Besides opening a new Czech General Consulate in Toronto, the main aim of Svoboda's visit is to convince Canadian officials to abolish the current asymmetrical visa requirements. Canada imposed visa requirements on Czech citizens in October 1997, following a wave of Roma arrivals who asked for political asylum in Canada. The Czech foreign minister says he is prepared to file a suit against Canada at the European Court if the meetings in Ottawa are not successful. As a member of the European Union, the Czech Republic can request that the EU impose visa requirements on Canadians. Canadians have not required a visa for the Czech Republic since the country joined the EU on May 1st, 2004.
The Central Executive Committee of the Social Democratic Party voted to dismiss two of its members over the weekend. Ludmila Schwarzova, the former head of the deputy transport minister's office is suspected of corruption, and Marian Kus is thought to have forged his lustration certificate. Sources say that Kus was a former communist-era intelligence agent tasked with infiltrating church circles in Czechoslovakia and Poland prior to 1989; his name appears on the list of communist secret police (StB) collaborators. Schwarzova and Kus were voted out by three-fifths of the Social Democratic Party membership.
District officials in the Olomouc region of Moravia decided to combat the expected mosquito outbreak over the weekend. Planes distributed 2.5 tonnes of the anti-mosquito substance VectoBac, which was made available by the Ministry of Health. The substance kills mosquito larva within 2 hours without harming other plants or animals. Reports warn that because of flooding earlier this spring, people should expect more mosquitoes than usual, but that the situation will not be as dramatic as it was following the floods of 1997.
Martin Tancos and Zdenek Simbersky, two Czech citizens who spent two years in a Turkish jail, have returned to Prague. The two were serving time for heroin smuggling, but earlier this week a Turkish court released them when the real perpetrators were uncovered. Tancos and Simbersky were arrested in April 2004 while crossing the Turkish-Greek border; they had been hired to transport textiles from Turkey to the Czech Republic and say they unknowingly became accomplices in a heroine trafficking operation.
A new bill passed on Friday that promises to create a chain of non-profit hospitals is being strongly challenged by the opposition Civic Democrats. The lower house passed the bill, drafted by the ruling Social Democrats and supported by the opposition Communists. To become law, the bill must still be signed by President Vaclav Klaus. Critics of the bill on non-profit hospitals say it will harm patients and lead to lay-offs and hospital closures. On Saturday, the deputy chairman of the Civic Democrats said that his party will most likely bring the matter before the consitutional court. The Civic Democrats are also vowing to abolish the law if they secure an election victory in June.
Former Social Democratic prime minister Stanislav Gross is returning to political life as the new head of the Social Democratic Party's Committee on Security. The news has raised speculation over whether Gross' return could harm the Social Democratic Party in the upcoming June elections. The party's acting head, Bohuslav Sobotka, says that the decision will not have a negative effect on his party at the polls. A year ago Stanislav Gross resigned as Czech prime minister and then as chairman of his party over a financing scandal connected to his Prague apartment.
For the 15th year in a row, Czechs are celebrating Earth Day this weekend. There are a number of organized group bike rides happening throughout the country, and the Prague Zoo is hosting an event highlighting recycling. The leader of the Green Party, Martin Bursik, is taking part in public events; polls show that the Greens may gain enough votes to make it into parliament after the next elections. Earth Day has been celebrated since 1970 and it became an internationally recognized day in 1990.
A new Czech consulate has opened in Toronto, which is home to the
largest number of Czech immigrants in Canada. Foreign Minister Cyril
Svoboda attended the opening ceremonies on Friday as part of his 4-day
state visit to Canada. The Toronto consulate is the third in Canada;
the other two are located in Montreal and Calgary. The Czech foreign
minister is also scheduled to meet with Canadian government officials
to discuss the issue of visa requirements. Visa relations are currently
not asymmetrical, as Czech citizens require a visa to visit Canada, but
Canadians have not required a visa for the Czech Republic since May
Czech writer Josef Skvorecky and his wife, Zdena Salivarova, who settled in Toronto in the 1960s and established the exile publishing house Sixty-Eight Publishers, were also honoured by the Czech foreign minister for their good work promoting the Czech Republic. Since 1969, Skvorecky and Salivarova have published over 220 books, the bulk of them banned by the Czechoslovak communist censors prior to 1989.
The Czech Foreign Ministry has launched a tender for a variety of aid projects to help persecuted members of the Belarusian opposition. The projects target mainly university students who may not be able to complete their studies in Belarus because they took part in demonstrations against the Lukashenko regime. The main areas of interest for scholarships and study stays are international relations, law, economics, journalism, foreign languages and state administration.