Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas, who is on a two-day visit to the Czech Republic, told officials in Prague on Monday that a two-state solution was the only viable option to the Middle East conflict and should be actively pursued. Speaking after a meeting with President Klaus, Mr. Abbas said that it was important to build on what had already been achieved, rather than going back to square one after the Israeli elections. He also stressed that the Gaza Strip could not be reconstructed without a united Palestinian government which would respect international norms and existing commitments. President Klaus agreed that Palestine would not be “intelligible” to the international community unless it was united.
Efforts to reconcile Mahmud Abbas’ Fatah faction and the rival Islamist movement Hamas have so far failed to yield results. Hamas drove Abbas’ security forces out of Gaza in June 2077, taking over the territory and confining the Palestinian Authority to the Israeli occupied West Bank.
As the Palestinian president met with leaders in Prague, EU foreign ministers in Brussels called on the incoming Israeli government to re-launch the Middle East peace process without delay. The Czech Deputy Prime Minister for European Affairs Alexander Vondra predicted a rough start to the talks with the emerging government of right-winger Benjamin Netanyahu, who is known for his negative position on the creation of a Palestinian state, but said the EU was ready to cooperate with any government elected by the people. As EU president, the Czech government has been actively involved in efforts to find a solution to the Middle East crisis.
Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, said a summit of Europe's leading economies in Berlin on Sunday had exposed deep rifts over how to tackle the financial crisis. The leaders of Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands met in Berlin to hammer out a common European policy ahead of a G20 meeting in April. Although they approved a joint statement on the need for greater regulation of financial markets and increased IMF funding, the Czech prime minister said the difference of opinions was considerable, with some member states less inclined than others to abandon protectionist measures, both on a national and EU-scale. Both the Czech EU presidency and the European Commission have voiced concern at attempts by France, Italy and Spain to shelter their car industries from the effects of the downturn.
The French and Czech foreign ministers have agreed to hold regular talks to ensure there are no political misunderstandings in the wake of a row over protectionism. Following a meeting in Brussels on Monday, Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg and his French counterpart Bernard Kouchner denied tensions between Prague and Paris, saying that minor disputes were sometimes blown out of proportion by the media. The ministers said that in actual fact they had close views on many issues and would meet or at least talk over the phone twice a week to prevent future misunderstandings. The two countries have recently exchanged strong words over protectionism and French officials have criticized Prague for allegedly being “too passive” at the EU helm.
The Czech EU presidency has condemned Sunday’s bombing of a busy Cairo market, which killed a French teenager and injured twenty-one people. In an official statement released on Monday the Czech presidency extended its condolences to the victim’s family and expressed deep sympathy for those injured in the attack. No one has claimed responsibility for the bombing. Egyptian police have reportedly detained eleven people for questioning.
The Czech Republic is to receive 35 million euros from the EU budget to finance the expansion of its gas tanks. In the wake of this year’s gas crisis caused by a fall out of deliveries from Russia the European Commission has decided to spend 3.75 billion euros helping to fund a dozen energy projects across Europe which would make member states less vulnerable in the event of unreliable deliveries. Details of the plan are to be debated at an upcoming EU summit which is to take place in Brussels on March 19-20.
Opposition leader Jiří Paroubek says his Social Democrats will propose an amendment to the law which would see the return of riot police to football stadiums across the country. He made the announcement in connection with Sunday’s football violence at a game between Brno and Ostrava, in which ten members of a private security agency were injured before the police intervened and restored order. Under a new regulation introduced by the Interior Ministry football clubs alone are responsible for security at their games and must hire a private agency to maintain order. If they call the police they have to pay for the intervention, which was previously financed from taxpayers’ money.
Christian Democrat MP Michaela Šojdrová is to be awarded the Order of the Legion of Honour, a high French state decoration, for contributing to the development of good relations between the two countries. She will be presented with the order by the French Ambassador to Prague Charles Fries on April 16. Among those who have received the Order of the Legion of Honour are the first Czechoslovak president Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, the former president Václav Havel, Ombudsman Otakar Motejl, writer Milan Kundera and artist František Kupka.
The 3rd annual multicultural festival Mene Tekel opened in Prague on Monday with a demonstration against totalitarianism on Prague’s Old Town Square. The five-day festival aims to highlight various forms of communist oppression and the impact it had on people’s lives. Among the many festival events taking place in different parts of Prague is an exhibition at Prague’s Charles University dedicated to the first victims of the communist regime who were put to death in the hard-line 1950s. The festival is organized by the Czech Institute for the Study of Totalitarian regimes.
The next few days are expected to be overcast with rain or sleet showers and day temperatures between 0 and 4 degrees Celsius.