US president George Bush said on Wednesday that his country was “very close” to signing an agreement with the Czech Republic on building an American radar base in central Bohemia. Mr Bush made his remarks after meeting with Czech prime minister Mirek Topolánek in Washington. Mr Topolanek, for his part, said that only some small details needed to be sorted out and that negotiations on the issue would be concluded very shortly.
On his way to Washington Mr Topolánek had said he expected an agreement would be signed on the US base around the time of a NATO summit in Bucharest at the beginning of April. He said discussions in the US capital would look at how the US anti-missile system would be linked to NATO structures and Russia’s opposition to the plan. Czech negotiators are also demanding that their country’s scientists be given a role in anti-missile research and development.
The planned US radar base would be part of a global anti-missile defence shield linked to a missile base in neighbouring Poland. Opinion polls have consistently suggested that most Czechs are opposed to it.
The European Commission has said it has not ruled out taking legal action against the Czech Republic for unilaterally signing a memorandum of understanding with the United States that is a first step towards the Czech Republic being included in the US visa waiver programme. The Commission has expressed concern that the memorandum might include a promise to provide sensitive personal data on people travelling to the US, which went beyond EU policy.
Left-wing Communist and Social Democrat MPs have also said they are unhappy with the personal data requirements in the document and say the government should have consulted more closely with the EU on the issue.
For his part, Czech prime minister Mirek Topolánek has said that the memorandum should enable the Czech Republic to finally achieve its longstanding ambition to join the US visa waiver programme later this year and that the arrangement could serve as a model for other EU countries.
French president Nicolas Sarkozy should visit Prague at the start of June according to Czech daily Mladá fronta Dnes. The paper quotes unnamed diplomatic sources as saying that Mr Sarkozy is expected to pay a visit to the Czech Republic shortly before France takes over the presidency of the European Union. The Czech Republic is due to take over the EU presidency from the French at the beginning of 2009.
A team of experts has failed to reach a final decision on approving plans by architect Jan Kaplický for a new National Library building. The team announced on Wednesday that it would refer the matter to the Office for the Protection of Competition to ascertain whether an architectural contest to come up with a design for the building was conducted in a proper and fair manner.
Kaplicky’s building, which has been nicknamed “The Blob” because of its outlandish futuristic appearance, has proven highly controversial since it was initially chosen for the planned new National Library building on Prague’s Letná Plain last year. It is not clear when a final decision on the building will now be made. Architect Jan Kaplický has since said that he will take the matter to an international court if it is not resolved soon.
The leader of the main opposition Social Democratic Party, Jirí Paroubek, who is on an official visit to Syria, has rejected criticism for meeting with leaders of the ruling socialist Ba’ath party, which has been accused of supporting international terrorism. Mr Paroubek said that the meeting was inevitable given the nature of the Syrian political system, but that it did not have any political content. He says his main reason for visiting Syria was to help “improve economic cooperation” with the Middle Eastern country. Both the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the American embassy in Prague declined to comment on the visit.
The Czech Supreme Court suspended the ultra-right Republican Party of Miroslav Sládek on Wednesday. The court made the decision because the party failed to submit its annual financial reports to the lower house of parliament for the years 2004 to 2006, which is obligatory for all political parties.
The Republican Party of Miroslav Sládek – headed by the populist politician of the same name – is the successor to the populist Czechoslovak Republican Party, which was represented in the Czech parliament in the 1990s on a platform espousing nationalistic and xenophobic views. The ruling means that the party cannot be actively involved in politics for a year and it will be banned forever if it fails to get its affairs in order within the next 12 months. The motion for the party’s suspension was filed at the court by the Czech government.
A police spokesperson has said that there will be 1000 officers on duty in Plzeň on Saturday, when a neo-Nazi march proceeds through the city centre. Riot police, traffic police, detectives and investigators, mounted police and dog-handlers will be on high-alert amid fears that there will be clashes between neo-Nazis and anti-fascist activists.
The march is ostensibly being held to protest against limitations on the right to assemble and restrictions on freedom of expression. The regional court authorised the march after upholding a complaint lodged when a similar event was banned by city authorities in January. Police have advised the public to stay away from the streets where the march will be held on Saturday afternoon.
The former head of the Czech police’s organized crime squad Jan Kubice has set up his own private security agency, Czech daily Lidove noviny reports. According to the paper, the agency will specialize in information and intelligence gathering activities.
Mr Kubice came to prominence as the author of a report that claimed that organized crime had infiltrated the Czech civil service. The so-called “Kubice Report” was hugely controversial as the Social Democratic Party, which was in power at the time of its publication just before the general election in June 2006, claimed it had been fabricated to damage their election chances. Mr Kubice left the police force at the end of January.
Little-known Czech teenager Petra Kvítová stunned top seed Venus Williams in the first round of the Memphis International tournament on Tuesday. The 17-year-old, who is ranked 143rd in the world, beat the world number eight 2-6, 6-4, 6-3 and will now face Brenda Schultz-McCarthy of the Netherlands in the second round. Meanwhile, in the same tournament, Kvítová’s compatriot Renata Voráčová lost her second round match to Olga Govortsov of Belarus 6-4, 4-6, 6-7.
The weather is expected to be overcast with clear spells in places and occasional showers in the east of the country. Highest temperatures should range between 8 and 12 degrees Celsius.