The decision whether to extend EU sanctions against Russia should not be rushed, Czech Foreign Minister Lubomír Zaorálek told Czech Television on Sunday. Mr. Zaorálek noted that the present sanctions are due to expire on July 31 and a decision by the European Council could come as early as mid-March. While some EU members are pressing for a speedy decision, the Czech foreign minister is advising prudence, saying that it would be logical to wait and see how Russia adhered to the Minsk peace deal before deciding whether to extend sanctions. The ceasefire appears to be taking hold in Donbass with heavy weapons being withdrawn and prisoners exchanged and this positive development should be encouraged, Mr. Zaorálek told Czech Television.
Several dozen people gathered on Prague’s Old Town Square on Sunday to pay tribute to the slain Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov. The event was organized by the association Prague Majdan. Those present signed a petition in support of extending the EU sanctions against Russia and likewise expressed support for Ukrainian pilot Nadezhda Savchenko, who is holding a hunger strike in a Russian prison.
Czech political leaders on Saturday condemned the murder of Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov and urged the authorities to conduct an impartial and transparent investigation. Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said that in Nemtsov Russia had lost a leading authority and upstanding defender of democratic values and human rights.
The Sudeten German Landsmannschaft, an organization representing the interests of Sudeten Germans expelled from Czechoslovakia after World War II, on the grounds of the so-called Benes decrees, will no longer strive for the return of property to the expellees and their descendants, according to a statement the organization released to the press on Sunday. At a weekend conference the SL amended its statutes, dropping the passage stating it would fight for the return of confiscated Sudeten German property and replacing it with a commitment to strive for a European arrangement where basic human rights, including the right to a homeland and self-determination would be fully respected. The organization says it will strive for the Charter of Fundamental Rights to be valid across the EU. Former Czech president Vaclav Klaus demanded an exemption from the charter for his country on the grounds that it could open the door to a wave of Sudeten German property claims, but the present centre-left government said last year it no longer wanted the opt-out. The possibility of Sudeten German restitutions have been a major issue of contention between the two countries.
Interior Minister Milan Chovanec has once again defended the police operation in the town of Uherský Brod where a deranged man shot eight people dead in a pub on Tuesday. The interior minister told commercial TV Prima that on the grounds of the information he had the police could not be faulted in its actions. He said, however, that should it emerge from the ongoing investigation that the police had failed in its duty then corrective measures would be taken. Some witnesses have criticized the police over their handling of the incident, saying that had they acted faster and more professionally they could have saved lives. Chovanec argued that when the police negotiated with the attacker they thought he was holding hostages and had no idea that the eight remaining people in the pub were already dead.
Autopsies on the victims of the shooting in Uhersky Brod have revealed that they died almost immediately and could not have been saved even with prompt medical care, according to State Attorney Roma Kafka, who has been assigned to the case. The state attorney rejected speculation that the victims had lain there injured for tens of minutes and that had the police stormed the pub sooner some of them could have been saved. He said the attacker had aimed for lethal areas, mostly the head and neck, and inflicted fatal injuries.
At its weekend election conference the ANO party of the ruling coalition unanimously re-elected Finance Minister Andrej Babiš its leader and approved an amendment to the party’s statutes, without debate. The party’s new statutes confirm the strong position of the party leader and modify the rights of the party leadership to give regional heads a greater say in decision-making. The conference also discussed the party’s policy programme and the measure to which it had managed to implement its priorities within the ruling coalition.
Party leader, Finance Minister Andrej Babiš, indicated in his opening speech to the conference that the process of fulfilling the party’s policy programme was being hampered by the party’s coalition partners, particularly the Social Democrats, whom he criticized for overly generous hand-outs of public funds which they wanted to compensate for by raising taxes. Some political commentators read this as a signal of the party’s shift to the right and a move to broaden its scope of supporters.
During the second day of the conference the newly-elected party leadership also heard the first sharp criticism from inside party ranks. Lower house deputy Ivan Pilný said that some of the newly-elected party leaders were using the party as an “elevator to power” and claimed that the result of the vote had been pre-arranged. He was particularly critical of newly-elected party deputy Radmila Kleslová, saying she had a shady past. However he welcomed the election of Environment Minister Richard Brabec and Defence Minister Martin Stropnický deputy leaders, saying they improved the image of the new leadership.
Justice Minister Helena Válková, a minister for the ANO party, has stepped down as announced on March 1st. Ms. Válková tendered her resignation several weeks ago after coming under pressure to quit from her own party which criticised her for allegedly being behind on fulfilling the government’s legislative plan and failings in her personnel policy. She is to be replaced by her first deputy, Robert Pelikán who will be appointed to the post on March 15. The party has come under fire for the manner in which the change-of-guard was handled.
A stray dog stopped the C line of the Prague metro for over half an hour on Saturday night. Trains were brought to a standstill after dispatchers were alerted to the fact that a stray dog had been sighted in the tunnel near Muzeum station. Police and firefighter units combed the tracks between Pražské Povstani and Florence and eventually caught up with the dog at I.P. Pavlova. He was captured and handed over to an animal control team.