President Vaclav Klaus indirectly criticised the policy of Vladimir Spidla's coalition government in a speech delivered in the lower house of the Czech Parliament on Thursday. President Klaus pointed to the record-high deficit of the draft 2004 state budget, the planned public finance reform and the growth of the state power at the cost of civic freedom. Mr Klaus also called on Czech politicians to act in unity when dealing with key issues of the state. President Klaus's speech in the lower house on Thursday was his first address to deputies since his election in February this year.
The senior state prosecutor's office in Prague has ordered police to reopen the case against 72-year-old Jiri Pasovsky, who shot dead a diplomat at the Nigerian embassy in February. Mr Pasovsky, a retired doctor, was declared criminally insane and admitted to a psychiatric hospital, and the criminal proceedings against him were halted. However in September he was released from hospital on his own request. The Nigerian embassy sent an official letter of protest to the Czech government over the affair. Nigeria has also announced it is closing its embassy in Prague, although it claims this is unrelated to the shooting incident.
NATO has formally launched its rapid response force, which includes the Czech Republic's elite nuclear, biological and chemical unit. The 9,000-strong NATO Response Force (NRF) will be capable of deployment to troublespots anywhere in the world within five days. When complete, the force should number more than 20,000 troops. Among them is the 500-strong Czech-led anti-chemical unit based in Liberec, which saw action in the 1991 Gulf War and the US-led invasion of Iraq. The Czech Republic joined NATO in 1999.
The main opposition Civic Democrats have called on Interior Minister Stanislav Gross and police chief Jiri Kolar to resign over what the party describes as the country's "corrupt and unprofessional" police force. Civic Democrat deputy chairman Ivan Langer told reporters the two were responsible for a range of problems in the police force, including rampant corruption, distortion of statistics and low respect among the public. The police recently launched high-profile campaigns targeting bad drivers and illegal prostitution. The opposition and some in the media have dismissed the campaigns as publicity stunts.
And following last weekend's nationwide raids on the country's brothels, police have gathered personal details on thousands of prostitutes, which they say will help the authorities track their movements when the Czech Republic joins the European Union next year. During last weekend's raids, the largest crackdown on prostitution in the country's history, police interviewed and compiled personal data on thousands of women working in 435 brothels across the country. An estimated 15,000 prostitutes, generally from countries in eastern Europe, work in the Czech Republic, most along the German and Austrian borders.
The Czech Republic and Austria will exchange areas of land adding up to more than 40,000 square metres along their common border, under a bill passed in the lower house on Wednesday. The redrawing of the Czech-Austrian border is to allow for rivers gradually changing their course and will also improve access to private property. The bill does not account for any transfers of population. The Czech Republic has been locked in dispute with Poland for 45 years over similar territorial changes on the Czech-Polish border.
Former communist hardliner Karel Hoffman was sentenced to six years in prison by the High Court in Prague on Monday. During the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia on August 21, 1968, Mr Hoffman, who was head of telecommunications at the time, ordered radio broadcasting to shut down, thereby helping to crush the "Prague Spring" reform movement. A lower court in Prague had already found him guilty of abuse of office and sentenced him to four years in prison in June. The verdict was appealed by the defendant and state attorney. The High Court has now raised the original four-year sentence to six years, finding him guilty of sabotage.
The European Refugee Fund (ERF) has decided to partially finance selected projects and policies relevant to refugees, displaced persons or asylum seekers in the Czech Republic. A Czech Interior Ministry official said on Monday that the ERF, which is EU funded and therefore only focuses on EU member states, has offered to allocate up to 807,000 Euros to organisations in the Czech Republic. The money, however, can only be used to support projects that are launched after May next year, when the Czech Republic is expected to become a fully fledged member of the European Union. Government offices, NGOs, and international institutions, planning projects for 2004 that benefit refugees and asylum seekers in areas such as health care, accommodation, and social and legal services, have until October 16th to forward their proposals to the Czech Interior Ministry.
Austrian border police announced on Monday they had detained some 270 refugees who had entered Austria illegally. The refugees were detained in various parts of the area along the border with the Czech Republic and Slovakia over the weekend. On Saturday night, as many as 176 refugees attempted to cross the border into Lower Austria. "All of them are of Russian nationality and have asked for asylum. They have been taken to a refugee camp in Traiskirchen," a police representative said, describing it as an invasion by Russian refugees. Another group of Russian nationals was detained in the area on Sunday.
The Czech Medical Chamber has called on Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla to replace Health Minister Marie Souckova. The professional organisation of health care personnel claims that the minister is unable to deal with the current serious financial crisis in the sector. According to the Medical Chamber, heath insurance companies are heavily indebted and delay payments to health facilities, which consequently become insolvent themselves and many of them are facing bankruptcy. The doctors claim that Mrs. Souckova has failed to present any feasible solution to the unsustainable situation and her incompetence may result in thousands of patients left without proper care.