At a meeting chaired by the Czech EU presidency on Wednesday, European leaders called on Israel to allow humanitarian aid to flow to the Gaza Strip immediately. Speaking after the meeting, attended among others by Israeli Foreign Minister Tsipi Livni, Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg said that the EU had called on Israel to open border crossings with Gaza to allow international humanitarian organizations to do their work. EU leaders also discussed ways of preventing arms smuggling into the Gaza Strip on Wednesday. A ceasefire in the region was declared by both sides last weekend following nearly three weeks of fighting.
Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek spoke with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Wednesday evening about a gas agreement between Moscow and Kiev, Russian news agencies have reported. Mr Topolánek, whose government currently holds the EU presidency, invited Mr Putin to Prague – an offer which the Russian prime minister accepted, the Kremlin said in a statement. Mr Putin’s visit will now be organized through diplomatic channels, Moscow said. During the phone-call, the Russian premier outlined the gas agreement reached by Russia and Ukraine in detail. Gas supplies arrived on Czech territory again on Tuesday for the first time in 15 days, after Moscow and Kiev resolved a pricing dispute which left millions of homes in Europe without heat.
Speaking in Brussels on Thursday, Deputy Prime Minister for European Affairs Alexandr Vondra said that when and how the Czech Republic ratifies the Lisbon Treaty is entirely up to Czechs to decide. Mr Vondra told MEPs that his government would not respond to European pressure by speeding up the process. The Czech Republic is the last country in Europe still to vote on the EU reform document. Following a ruling by the Constitutional Court in Brno last November, Czech MPs voted to postpone a decision on the treaty until February 2009. Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek has spoken out in favour of the Lisbon Treaty, while Czech president Václav Klaus is known to be a fierce opponent of the reform document.
Former Czech president Václav Havel, who has been in hospital for 11 days, was able to breathe without a respirator on Thursday as his condition improved. A spokesperson for Prague’s Motol hospital said that Mr Havel’s health was, however, still a cause for concern. The former president was admitted to hospital with breathing difficulties over a week ago, where he underwent minor surgery. The operation was followed by complications and Mr Havel has spent the last 11 days in intensive care. Mr Havel suffers from chronic bronchitis and had part of his right lung removed in 1996 after being diagnosed with cancer.
Labour and social affairs ministers from around the European Union are convening in Luhačovice, Southern Moravia, on Thursday for an informal two-day meeting held by the Czech government as part of the country’s EU presidency. The talks follow last week’s meetings of European justice and interior ministers in Prague. Top of the agenda at this week’s talks are quotas for foreign workers which are still implemented in some EU countries. Germany, Austria, Belgium and Denmark still have limits on the number of workers they will accept from the EU’s newer member states; quotas which the Czech EU presidency would like to see scrapped.
At a session of the Czech Bishops’ Conference on Thursday, representatives of the Czech Catholic Church criticized the European Parliament for its Resolution on Human Rights. A spokesperson for the conference said that delegates did not agree with articles of the resolution which supported same-sex marriage and the creation of youth advisory centres where, the conference said, teenagers would be able to discuss abortion. The bishops wished the Czech government success in its efforts to promote peaceful cohabitation throughout Europe as part of the country’s EU presidency, and called on believers to pray for all those involved in the Czech presidency.
The government agency CzechInvest said that it secured a record number of foreign investors in 2008, but that the amount invested in the Czech Republic fell overall. Some 213 new foreign investors poured their money into the Czech Republic in 2008, but the value of this investment came to a total of 30 billion crowns (1.41 billion USD), 41 billion crowns less than in 2007. Most of this money went into research and development and the service industry, a spokesperson for CzechInvest said.
At the briefing on Thursday, the agency’s general director Alexandra Rudyšarová said that the Czech Republic lost two major car contracts in 2008 due to the ongoing global financial crisis. Ms Rudyšarová said that the two contracts were worth several billions of crowns each, but both were scrapped when the automobile industry started to feel the effects of the economic downturn.
Czech sound technician Petr Forejt has been nominated for an Oscar for his work on the film Wanted, which was shot on location in Prague. He was nominated alongside colleagues Chris Jenkins and Frank Montano for his work on the film. Mr Forejt was the only Czech to feature in this year’s Oscars nominations, last year Valašské Meziříčí’s own Markéta Irglová won a best-song Oscar alongside Ireland’s Glen Hansard for Falling Slowly from the film Once.
A tram driver has been sentenced to three years in prison after being found guilty of reckless driving. Three people died in April last year when Petr Hroch caused a head-on collision with another tram in Ostrava. On Thursday, Mr Hroch immediately appealed the verdict and refused to comment on the sentence he was handed. During the trail, Mr Hroch did, however, say that he felt himself to be the guilty party in a crash which killed three and injured 66.
Czech women’s tennis number one Iveta Benešová is out of the Australian Open in the second round after losing to an on-form Elena Dementieva on Thursday. Benešová was crushed in two sets by the Russian 6-4, 6-1. The only Czechs to make it into the third round of the competition are Tomas Berdych and his girlfriend Lucie Šafářová, who both recorded wins on Wednesday, over Argentina’s Brian Dabul and New Zealand’s Marina Erakovic respectively.
Temperatures are set to rise over the next couple of days, ranging between 2-6 degrees Celsius. The current fine sunny weather will be interrupted only by the occasional shower of rain.