Military observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe on Saturday made a third futile attempt to enter Ukraine's Crimea Peninsula, having once again been forced back by Russian troops firing warning shots into the air. The 37-member OSCE mission, which includes two Czechs, was to have monitored the situation in the region, visited Ukrainian military installations in Crimea and the headquarters of the Russian fleet in Sevastopol. Its week-long mission is due to expire on Tuesday. Similarly, UN Special envoy Robert Serry, who arrived in Crimea last Wednesday, was forced to leave the region almost immediately, after being attacked and threatened by pro-Russian activists.
The Višegrad Group states are urging the United States to boost natural gas exports to Europe as a hedge against the possibility that Russia could cut off its supply of gas to Ukraine. Ambassadors from the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland made the appeal in a letter to the US Congress. The letter asks for Congress to support speedier approval of natural gas exports, noting that the "presence of U.S. natural gas would be much welcome in Central and Eastern Europe." The ambassadors warn that the unrest in Ukraine has brought back Cold War memories and that energy security threatens the region's residents on a daily basis.
Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka is to pay a two-day working visit to Germany at the end of next week. His talks with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel on March 13th are expected to cover EU and bilateral issues as well as the crisis in Ukraine. It will be the prime minister’s third foreign trip abroad in office, after Slovakia and Poland.
The Usti region in north Bohemia has reported an outbreak of measles. Over 70 people are said to have contracted the disease in the last few weeks. The infection is reported to have spread by a Czech tourist who contracted the disease while on holiday in India and on his return unwittingly exposed dozens of people. The regional hospital has ordered vaccines for its entire staff after two dozen of its doctors and nurses contracted the disease.
Thirty-one Italians students were taken to hospital on Friday night after suffering the effects of what appear to be food poisoning. The group of students, who were housed in the Olšanka hotel in Prague’s Žižkov district, suffered severe intestinal problems and were taken by ambulance to several hospitals in the vicinity. All are said to be out of danger. Police and hygiene officers are investigating the incident.
A decision of whether to lift the government-imposed limits on coal mining in north Bohemia should be made by the end of 2015, according to Industry and Trade Minister Jan Mládek. The minister said he himself would be in favour of holding a referendum on the matter ahead of a government decision by said this would have to be approved by all parties of the coalition government. Environmental activists have welcomed the fact that the government is not taking a decision on the matter immediately and is ready to consider the views of the locals. The mining limits were imposed in the early 1990s to protect villages in the north from industrial expansion and have frequently come under attack from politicians and industry leaders who argue that at a time of growing unemployment jobs should be a top priority.
An interior ministry commission has rejected a complaint by the former police president Martin Červíček regarding the manner in which he was removed from his post at the start of the year by then interior minister Martin Pecina. Minister Pecina reinstated Červíček’s predecessor to the post after a court cleared him of the slander charges on the grounds of which he was dismissed from office. The minister questioned the validity of Martin Červíček’s appointment saying he should have been a temporary replacement. The interior ministry commission supports this interpretation. The interior minister has now called a tender for a new police chief in view of stabilizing the situation at the force.
Czech MEP Jan Zahradil has called for the European Union to take a firmer approach to Russia over its military incursion into the Ukrainian province of Crimea. Russia must face international sanctions over its actions, Mr. Zahradil, who heads the European Conservatives and Reformers group at the European Parliament, told the Czech News Agency on Friday. He said he disagreed with his former Civic Democrat party colleague Václav Klaus, who said that the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, had acted rationally in the current crisis in Ukraine. However, Mr. Zahradil said he shared Mr. Klaus's fears that the EU could "abuse" the situation.
Miloš Zeman has improved the image of the Czech Republic since being appointed president on March 8 last year, the country’s prime minister, Bohuslav Sobotka, said on the eve of the former’s first anniversary in office. While his predecessor Václav Klaus was a Eurosceptic, Mr. Zeman is avowedly pro-European and returned the EU flag to Prague Castle after his appointment. Mr. Sobotka said he had noticed the Czech Republic had a better image while on foreign trips.
NHL club the Buffalo Sabres are due to induct Czech goaltender Dominik Hašek into their Hall of Fame in a ceremony at the end of this month. Hašek was with the Sabres from 1992 to 2001, during which time he helped the club to 234 wins and a record 55 shutouts in 491 games. Now aged 49, he was the first goalie in NHL history to win the Hart Trophy twice and picked up six Vezina trophies in only nine years.