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PM Sobotka to head Czech delegation to Poland marking the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz

Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka will head a Czech delegation to neighbouring Poland on January 27th to mark the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp, government spokesman Martin Ayrer has confirmed. The speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, Jan Hamáček, meanwhile, will attend a commemorative ceremony on the same day at Terezín, north of Prague. The extermination camp at Auschwitz, where more than more than a million people, mostly Jews, were murdered, was liberated in 1945 by Soviet soldiers. World leaders who will be attending on the 27th will reportedly include the presidents of Poland, France, Germany and Austria. Russian President Vladimir Putin is not due to attend, having not received an invitation from Warsaw over his country’s intervention in Ukraine. Russia will be represented by its ambassador, ČTK writes.

President stirs controversy with statements about handicapped

President Miloš Zeman has stirred controversy by stating he is against inclusive education - the teaching of physically handicapped and non-handicapped pupils together in classrooms in elementary school. The head-of-state made the comments while visiting a rehabilitation facility in Brandýs nad Orlicí. His view, the Czech News Agency noted, goes against an ever-growing trend in the Czech Republic for students with special needs to be taught togeher with non-handicapped children. The president’s comment drew strong criticism from Václav Krása, the head of the National Disability Council, who said the president was contradicting both Czech and international law. Mr Krasa said such statements led to segregation. The president was also critised by the country's Ombudswoman Anna Šabatová, who called his words "unacceptable". Education Minister Marcel Chládek said, meanwhile, he was in favour for the broadest possible inclusion of handicapped children in regular classrooms.

Funeral held for Czech soldier Jiří Schams

Fellow soldiers, the defence minister, the Chief of the General Staff Petr Pavel and others paid their last respects on Thursday to Jiří Schams, the Czech soldier who died last week at the age of 42. Schams’ funeral service was held at the Strašnice crematorium, as Gripen fighter jets and fighter helicopters flew past. In 2008, the Czech soldier survived a suicide attack while serving in Afghanistan but suffered serious injuries and permanent disability. In his long recovery, he became a symbol for many veterans and others; Schams was diagnosed with cancer last year.

Senate passes bill on Brdy military zone

As expected, the upper house of Parliament has passed a bill abolishing the Brdy military zone, south-west of Prague. The draft law also reduces the area of other military zones in the Czech Republic. Defence Minister Martin Stropnický said in the past that the Czech Armed Forces no longer had the need for such a large site, which was originally designed for some 115,000 soldiers. Today, troop numbers stand at around 21,000. If the bill is signed into law by the president, the Army will release some 42,000 hectares out of the total of 130,000.

Government earmarks more than 60 million crowns for repatriation of ethnic Czechs

The Czech government has earmarked 66 million crowns for the repatriation of ethnic Czechs from around the world; most notably the funds could be used by Czechs in Ukraine’s western province of Volhynia who had sought help to return. Those who apply for assistance in relocating to the Czech Republic can apply for up to one year’s paid accommodation, as well as financial help of up to 50 thousand crowns for adults and 20 thousand for minors. A Catholic charity could further aid those returning to the country, assisting in securing health care, school enrolment, language courses or job searches.

President: immigrants who fail to adapt to rules of adopted countries should leave

Czech President Miloš Zeman has told reporters that immigrants who fail to adapt to rules within their adopted countries, should leave, adding that he had never spoken about the broad deportation of Muslims as had been interpreted by a number of journalists. The president made the statement on Wednesday, alluding to a recent interview he gave regional daily Deník. The head-of-state said the deportation of questionable figures was hardly new, referring to cases where imams were deported from Great Britain to their home countries for spreading radical views. On Wednesday he made clear, meanwhile, that he supported extensive humanitarian aid for Syrian refugees in their own or neighbouring countries, but was less enthusiastic about granting them asylum in the Czech Republic.

Czech-Polish expedition sets off for Antarctica

A sailing boat with a Czech-Polish expedition left the port of Hobart, the Tasmanian capital, in the early hours of Thursday and set off for the Bay of Whales in Antarctica´s Ross Sea. It is the southernmost destination to be ever reached by a yacht, Jaroslav Žák told the Czech News Agency. Žák is a member of the Czech Antarctic Polar Fund in support of Antarctic research, whose co-founder Dušan Jamný is representing the Czech Republic in the expedition itself. The voyage to the Bay of Whales is expected to take about 100 days. In the past, the bay served as a launching spot for expeditions in Antarctica, including Roald Amundsen’s. Yachts are prevented from sailing far southwards by the frozen and stormy sea. It is an area where mainly icebreakers operate. The southernmost place ever reached by a yacht is the 77 degree and 51 minute latitude. Due to the ice cover, numerous icebergs and adverse weather, the Ross Sea is considered one of the least accessible in the world.

‘Fair Play’ gets most nominations for top film award

The Czech film ‘Fair Play’ by director Andrea Sedláčková has emerged as an early favourite for the top domestic film awards, the Český Lev, with the most nominations for the main award. The film recounts the pressure put on a young athlete and her family to use anabolic steroids in communist era Czechoslovakia in the 1980’s. The award winners will be announced on February 21.

Tomáš Berdych makes limited commitment to Davis Cup ties

Czech men’s tennis number one Tomáš Berdych has pulled out of playing in the first round Davis Cup confrontation against Australia in March. He has, however, said he is willing to rejoin the team for in playoffs or in the quarterfinals. But Radek Štěpanek looks like he will be back from a long injury and ready to play in the Ostrava rubber. Berdych has said he wants to concentrate on his singles career and is also in the midst of managing a transition of his management team. Štěpanek last played in September in the Davis Cup semi-finals against France but then had to cut short his season. Berdych appointed Daniel Vallverdu, formerly party of Andy Murray’s team, as his new coach in December.

Karolína Plíšková reaches Sydney Open finals

Czech tennis player Karolína Plíšková has reached the finals of the Sydney Open after defeating Germany’s Angelique Kerber in straight sets 6:3; 6:2. The win sets up the possibility of an all Czech final in the women’s singles with fellow Czech Petra Kvítová later playing Bulgaria’s Tsvetana tana Pironkova in the other semi-final. The Sydney Open is seen a curtain raiser for the first grand slam of the year, the Australian Open.