Sir Nicholas Winton, the Briton who helped save the lives of 669 children by arranging their evacuation from Nazi occupied Czechoslovakia has died at the age of 106, the AP agency announced. Sir Nicholas’ exploit in saving the mostly Jewish children in 1939 were largely unknown until 1988 when it featured on a popular BBC programme. The former stockbroker and businessman remained modest about his achievements nonetheless. He was awarded the Czech Republic’s highest civil honour, the order of the White Lion in 2014. Some of the rescued children later went on to become famous, such as the Canadian journalist Joe Schlesinger, British politician Alf Dubs, and British writer Vera Gissing. The last evacuation train with 250 children left on September 1, 1939, the same day Hitler invaded Poland. The borders closed, those children never made it; they are believed to have all perished in concentration camps.
The Czech Republic on Wednesday takes over the year-long presidency of the Visegrad Four group, which also includes Slovakia, Poland and Hungary. Among Prague’s main priorities will be to boost the internal cohesion of the regional grouping, foster increased co-operation in energy, security and defence, and help develop the four states’ digital economies. The Czech Republic will host two Visesgrad summits during its presidency while next February the quartet’s foreign ministers will mark the 25th anniversary of the existence of the regional bloc.
Czech Minister of Foreign Affairs Lubomír Zaorálek has said he would support the creation of camps in North Africa where the European Union could process asylum applications. Zaorálek said that siting such camps in Libya would be the most logical solution but that the EU does not have a real partner to negotiate with there. Libya is currently in the midst of a power battle with different factions having control over different parts of the country. The Czech foreign minister said that other African countries showed little interest in such camps either. The idea of such camps is backed by Czech prime minster Bohuslav Sobotka and finance minister Andrej Babiš.
Applications for asylum in the Czech Republic rose in 2014 to total 1,154 but most of those making demands were from Eastern Europe, overwhelmingly from Ukraine. Applications from European countries accounted for just over 57 percent of the demands, those from Asian countries 31 percent, and African countries just under eight percent. The total number of asylum applications is a fifth of the total made in 2004. With the latest wave of immigration to Europe and a doubling the number of illegal immigrants found on Czech territory this year the number of asylum applications is expected to rise.
The government on Wednesday rejected a proposal calling for parties to set a minimum 40 percent quota for women candidates in parliamentary and regional elections, the Czech News Agency reported. The proposal had been put forward by the Social Democrat ministers responsible for human rights and the interior. But the plan however has long been opposed by their coalition government colleagues from the ANO and Christian Democrat parties. Around a quarter of election candidates are currently women with a slightly lower number usually winning seats in the lower house of parliament.
Stepped up Czech police checks for suspicious looking illegal immigrants had an unfortunate result in the east Moravian town of Uherské Hradiště. A group of 11 foreigners from the West African state of Benin were taken into police custody after they were found without papers. It later emerged that they were from a group taking part in the famous International Folk Festival at nearby Strážnice who had gone on an excursion and left their papers in the hotel. The festival organisers intervened to arrange their release.
A study by Prague’s University of Technology and Chemistry has found that the same branded foods and drinks in Germany and the Czech Republic often have a dramatically different composition. The study took 24 brands sold in the two countries and found around a third had a significantly different composition. Margarine in Germany had a 70 percent fat content whereas it was only 60% in the Czech Republic. Pepsi-Cola was sweetened with sugar in Germany and a syrup in the Czech Republic. And a brand of fish finger had seven percent less fish in the Czech Republic than Germany. Some producers said the different content was a response to different national tastes but the overwhelming impression was that costs were cut when selling to the Czech market.
Deputy minister for foreign affairs Petr Drulák is leaving his post as the second in command at the minister after minister Lubomír Zaorálek. Drulák, who has been in the post for around the last 18 months, said he agreed to terminate his tenure with Zaorálek. His will continue as political secretary of the minister. His place will be taken by Lukáš Kuacký who has up till now been in charge of the ministry’s logistics and services. Drulák was widely perceived as being one of the main movers in the switch of Czech foreign policy towards China and other authoritarian regimes which distanced the country from the humanitarian stand taken under former president Václav Havel and those close to him.
Czech goalkeeper Petr Čech revealed Wednesday that he was close to moving to Arsenal in 2003 from his French club Rennes. At a press conference in Prague, Čech said that the only thing that stopped the transfer then were problems getting a work permit for Britain. Čech later moved to Chelsea. The 33-year-old ‘keeper said that Arsenal had the ambition and talent to win trophies and he would not have moved there if that had not been the case. His transfer from Chelsea, where he was recently number two goalkeeper, was confirmed on Monday.
The president of European football’s governing body, Michel Platini, has officially opened the new headquarters of the Czech Football Association at Prague’s Strahov. The centre includes the Czech game’s first Hall of Fame, which features a special section dedicated to the three biggest figures in the history of Czech soccer: Josef Masopust, Josef “Pepi” Bican, and Pavel Nedvěd. Platini and other UEFA delegates were in Prague for the final of the Under 21 European Championship, in which Sweden beat Portugal on penalties.
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