The Council of Europe’s anti-torture committee on Thursday demanded an immediate end to surgical castration for sex offenders in the Czech Republic. In a report following two fact-finding missions to Czech psychiatric hospitals and prisons, the committee said the practice amounted to “degrading treatment” and that it was questionable whether the patient’s consent was always truly free and informed. The use of surgical castration for sex offenders has stirred ethical debate around the world, with Britain, France and Poland favouring chemical methods of treatment for convicted sex offenders. In the past eight years around 300 Czech patients have undergone chemical castration, with around 50 undergoing surgery. In response to the criticism the Czech minister for human rights and minorities, Michael Kocáb, said he would push for chemical castration to be used exclusively, though only if it was proven to be as effective as surgical castration.
The Czech National Bank slashed its benchmark interest rate by 0.5 percentage points to a record low of 1.75 percent on Thursday. The new rate is lower than the eurozone benchmark which the European Central Bank cut to 2.0 percent in January. The steep cut by the Czech National Bank was expected because of low inflation and a slowdown of the economy. Analysts polled by the CTK news agency said that lending rates may well continue to fall this year, possibly to 1.0 percent.
Hosting talks between the EU and Ukraine on Thursday, the Czech foreign minister, Karel Schwarzenberg, warned Kiev it would need to work hard to regain the trust it lost during the recent gas crisis. Minister Schwarzenberg urged Ukraine to push ahead with political, economic and judiciary reforms and stabilize its internal policy. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Volodymyr Ohryzko maintained that his country was not to blame for the gas crisis since it had been Russia who halted gas supplies to Europe via Ukraine. He said his country was aiming for fully-fledged EU membership and would strive for visa-free relations with all EU member states.
The Czech presidency of the EU said on Thursday it was "seriously concerned" by Russian plans to boost its military presence in the breakaway Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. In a statement carried by the CTK news agency the Czech EU presidency said that any military build-up in Abkhazia and South Ossetia would be in contradiction with the spirit of the August and September 2008 ceasefire agreements and jeopardize stability and security in the region. Last year Russia sparked international concern by recognizing the independence of both regions in the wake of the war in August. Russia has announced it plans to deploy some 3,800 soldiers in each of the two rebel regions and to set up military bases there.
Senators for the ruling Civic Democratic Party are working on a new complaint to be lodged against the Lisbon treaty with the Czech Constitutional Court, the daily Lidové noviny reported on Thursday, citing one of the senators. Senator Petr Pakosta said he was working on the complaint with nine other colleagues but expected another 10 to 20 senators to support the initiative in due time. At least 17 members of the 81-seat Senate would have to sign such a complaint for it to be lodged. Last year the Civic Democrat dominated Senate had several articles of the treaty assessed by the Constitutional Court, which later ruled that they were not at variance with the Czech constitution.
Although it now presides over the EU, the Czech Republic is the only EU member state not to have voted on the EU reform treaty. On Wednesday the Civic Democrats and the Communists joined forces to postpone a ratification vote in the lower house yet again, at least until February 17th.
The lower house of Parliament has approved the Czech Republic’s foreign missions for 2009. Should the bill have been rejected, all Czech servicemen on missions abroad would have had to have been recalled. Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek’s cabinet tried and failed to have a draft of the army’s foreign missions approved in December, but with the opposition Social Democrats against plans to raise the number of troops in Afghanistan, the proposals were thrown out. After hours of heated debate on Wednesday, four Social Democrat MPs voted with the government to pass the bill. The Czech Republic will now have a total of 480 soldiers based in Afghanistan and 430 stationed in Kosovo.
David Rath, a deputy for the Social Democrats is demanding an apology from Reflex magazine for depicting him as Hitler on its cover page. Reflex did so in reaction to an interview for Lidove noviny in which Mr. Rath referred to the Nazi economic recovery plan. David Rath has since apologized for using an unfortunate example, but he maintains that his words were taken out of context and demonized. He said that many members of his family perished in Nazi concentration camps and that he had not in any way indicated sympathy for the Nazi regime.
The Czech Republic’s trade surplus in 2008 fell by 661 million euros from the 2007 level as full-year exports dropped by 0.7 percent and imports rose by 0.1 percent, the Czech Statistical Office said on Thursday. December exports fell at a double-digit pace and this decline is expected to deepen in the months to come. Analysts say the figures prove the extremely negative impact of the eurozone recession on the Czech economy.
The Czech Finance Ministry presented a tender on its website Thursday to sell a 91.5 percent state-held stake in the national air carrier Czech Airlines (ČSA). The public tender will consist of two rounds – a qualification round and a second round in which the only criterion will be the offered purchase price. In the first round bidders will have to guarantee that ČSA will retain the status of national air carrier with Prague airport as its home for five years. According to the Finance Ministry bidders from Western Europe, East Asia as well as Russia’s Aeroflot have expressed interest in the airline. The deadline for bids is March 23.
The coming days are expected to be overcast with scattered showers and day temperatures between 4 and 8 degrees Celsius.