Former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright, has spoken at an international conference in Prague on the future of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. Addressing attendees on Friday, Mrs Albright called on allies within NATO to join forces in the face of the global economic downturn; she also read an address by former US President Bill Clinton. The Prague conference, marking ten years since NATO first expanded to include former communist countries including the Czech Republic, also saw speeches by leading representatives such as NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer. He said that the expansion of the alliance to ten former communist states between 1999 and 2004 had enhanced European security and put a definitive end to the Cold War. He also said NATO would remain open to new members, taking two more states – Albania and Croatia - on board before the end of the year.
In related news, Defence Minister Vlasta Parkanová said at the close of the two-day NATO conference on Friday that the EU and NATO should cooperate more closely over the use of military helicopters. Given the current recession, she said, individual countries could not afford to build up dual military and defence capacities for both organisations. At the same conference, EU foreign and defence policy chief Javier Solana said that the availability of helicopters was perhaps the most important factor in improving the EU’s rapid response capability.
The country’s environment minister, Martin Bursík, has issued scathing criticism of Czech President Václav Klaus over a speech the head-of-state gave in the US this week on global warming. On Thursday Mr Bursík likened the president to a “comic figure” and said he was damaging the Czech Republic on the international scene. Mr Klaus – a denier of the existence of man-made global warming – spoke at a conference in California during which he compared environmentalists to the communists who ruled Czechoslovakia for 40 years. Mr Klaus has spoken on the issue of global warming on numerous occasions, drawing fire from a number of politicians as well as Czech environmentalists.
Czech police have begun preparing security measures for next month’s EU-US summit in the Czech capital, which will include a visit by US President Barack Obama. On Thursday police president Oldřich Martinů revealed that around 2,500 officers would assist in areas. He added that the planned measures by Czech officials were being consulted with the US. The framework is not expected to exceed measures in place, for example, during the 2007 visit by Mr Obama’s predecessor George W. Bush. Barack Obama, the 44th US president, will visit the Czech Republic on April 4th and 5th.
Prague residents have been warned to expect traffic restrictions, with key areas, such as Prague Castle, to be closed off.
Czech deputy defence minister Martin Bartak has signed a contract with the General Dynamics Group, which includes the Austrian firm Steyr, for 107 Pandur II armoured personnel carriers. The Czech government approved the deal in early March and the price of the order, including logistics and training, is 14.4 billion crowns. The Czech military will receive the first Pandurs this year and the last in 2013. After they pass military tests, the APCs should be deployed in the military missions abroad, primarily in Afghanistan.
Police have charged a 26-year-old Czech man for having allegedly caused more than 50 million crowns in damages through film piracy. According to reports, the suspect –from the Bruntál area in the northeast of the country – was offering more than 600 illegally-copied titles over the internet. The illegal copies were delivered through the mail from February to September of last year. The man has been accused of copyright infringement; if found guilty he could face up to two years in prison.
A Czech court has sentenced Pavel Minařík, a well-known former agent of the communist-era secret police the StB, to 4.5 years in prison for insurance fraud. In 1996, Mr Minařík allegedly had material belonging to his company set on fire in Ukraine in order to claim insurance money worth millions of crowns. The defendant, who pled not guilty, has appealed the verdict. Under communism, the former agent was hailed as a hero in connection with a plan to carry out a bomb attack on Radio Free Europe’s Munich headquarters.
The Czech Republic saw a sixth annual increase in births in 2008, but family life suffered with the divorce rate climbing to an all-time high, official data showed Friday. The Czech Statistical Office said the population rose by 86,400 to 10,467,542 people, as 119,600 children were born. 71,800 foreigners moved in and 104,900 people died. "The average number of children born to one woman grew to 1.5," the Czech Statistical Office said. New births were at their highest since 1993.
Czech skier Šárka Záhrobská has taken the bronze medal in the World Cup slalom in Are, Sweden. The skier led after her first run, but fell behind in her second, beaten by France’s Sandrine Aubert and Germany’s Fanny Chmelar. Maria Riesch, who was fifth, is the slalom discipline champ for the season. Záhrobská moved up to second place overall with 459 points. The final race of the season Saturday in Are will be the giant slalom.
Partly cloudy conditions are expected into the weekend. Daytime temperatures on Saturday are expected to reach highs of around 7 degrees Celsius.