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Politician, former dissident Jiří Dienstbier dies aged 73

Well-known Czech Senator Jiří Dienstbier - Czechoslovakia’s first post-1989 foreign minister and former dissident and journalist – has died. Mr Dienstbier was 73 and had been hospitalised at Vinohrady hospital after suffering from a long illness. Social Democrats (for whom he ran as an independent) learning of his death on Saturday, held a minute of silence for him at a regional conference; acting party leader Bohuslav Sobotka said Mr Dienstbier’s death represented a loss not only for Social Democrats but for all of Czech society.

The current foreign minister, Karel Schwarzenberg, reacted to the news by saying Mr Dienstbier had been a personal friend, calling him one of the most important figures following 1989.

Former Czech president Václav Havel said he had lost a friend who had helped him and given him strength during his imprisonment by Czechoslovakia’s Communist regime. He said they had experienced much together; he added that while he suspected Mr Dienstbier was ill after meeting him not long ago, he was shocked by the sudden turn of events.

It was Mr Dienstbier who 22 years ago, along with his West German counterpart Hans-Dietrich Genscher, symbolically cut barbed wire that had been part of the Iron Curtain near the border crossing at Rozvadov/Waidhaus. Between 1998 and 2001, he served as the UN’s United Nations special rapporteur for human rights in the former Yugoslavia and opposed the NATO bombing of Serbia and Kosovo. In the Senate he represented Kladno and was to have served until 2014.

Earlier in his career, Jiří Dienstbier studied journalism and worked for Czechoslovak Radio, serving as foreign correspondent in Asia, Europe and the United States. Although he had joined the Communist Party in the 1950s, he took part in the Prague Spring and opposed the Soviet-led occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1968. As a result he was thrown out of the party and dismissed from his job. In 1977, he was one of the signatories of Charter 77 and was twice spokesman for the human rights movement. As a dissident he helped published illegal writing known as samizdat, which landed him a three-year prison sentence. After his release in the 1980s, he could only gain work as a manual labourer.

Delegates re-elect Hulinský as head of Prague Social Democrats

Delegates at a regional conference of the Social Democratic Party have re-elected Petr Hulinský as head of the party’s Prague branch. He will hold the post for two years, after defeating rival Jiří Dienstbier, jr. In a secret ballot, Mr Hulinský received 104 votes, Mr Dienstbier just 48. The latter was the party’s leader in communal elections last autumn, who opposed a controversial power sharing deal at Prague City Hall between his party and the right-of-centre Civic Democrats. By contrast, Mr Hulinský, one of the architects of the deal, defended the coalition on Saturday, suggesting that public opposition to the agreement had been artificially fuelled by the media.

Prague delegates back Hašek for party leader

In related news, the governor of South Moravia Michal Hašek received backing from a majority of Prague delegates on Saturday in the build up to the party’s leadership conference in March. Mr Hašek got 97 votes compared to acting leader Bohuslav Sobotka’s 50. Both are vying to become the next party chairman. Michal Hašek said if he was elected in two month’s time, he wanted Bohuslav Sobotka to be in the top party leadership. Sobotka, former finance minister, has been acting leader of the Social Democratic Party since Jiří Paroubek’s resignation last May over poor results in the national election.

Institute issues extreme flood alert for Plzeň region

The Hydrometeorological Institute has issued an extreme flood alert for the region of Plzeň, where water levels have been rising on the Radbuza. Mid-level warnings, meanwhile, are in place in the regions of Liberec and Ústí nad Labem in north Bohemia, and Karlovy Vary in the west of the country. A warm front from the southwest has led to a rise in temperatures, melting snow around the country following weeks of freezing conditions. Ice floes on some rivers are also raising water levels. Meteorologists expect temperatures on Saturday evening to drop below zero and have warned of icy conditions on Czech roads. Similar conditions over the last two days have severely complicated the situation for both motorists and pedestrians.

Fire fighters may evacuate people from homes in Černosice

In related news, fire fighter teams are readying to evacuate residents from around 50 homes in Černosice, near Prague, in the face of possible flooding from the Berounka River. Ten of the homes are said to be inhabited year-round, the rest are used by owners for recreational purposes. Fire fighters are keeping an eye on the situation and monitoring potential natural barriers, such as a kilometre-long ice floe that broke away with rushing water.

Programme aims to draw back Czech scientists working abroad

The Czech government has approved a funding programme aimed at attracting Czech scientists working abroad to come back to the Czech Republic, the daily Lidové noviny writes. According to the newspaper, the government will set aside almost half a billion crowns for dozens of emerging research centres – created with the help of European funds – in the coming years. Currently, the country lacks enough specialists, as many in the past opted for better conditions abroad. The Education Ministry has said that 1,000 new jobs could be created over the next five years. The head of the Biotechnological Institute CEITEC being created near Brno was cited by Lidové noviny as saying interest in Czechs working in Western Europe was high.

Monet-Warhol exhibition sees 60,000 visitors

The Batliner collection on loan from the Albertina in Vienna, in an exhibition entitled Monet - Warhol on at the National Gallery in Prague, has been a big success, the gallery’s spokeswoman Eva Kolerusová has told ČTK, the Czech news agency. Around 60,000 visitors have seen the show which features works not only by renowned French impressionist painter Claude Monet but also by artists such as Wassily Kandinsky and Max Ernst as well as American Pop Art giant Andy Warhol, since the exhibition opened in mid-October. The Albertina’s collection has been complemented by works from the National Gallery’s own. In addition to the show drawing a high number of visitors, guided tours had also proven highly popular, the spokeswoman said.

Tour de Ski: Jakš in third place with one race remaining

Czech cross-country skier Martin Jakš is in third spot in the 2011 Tour de Ski with only one race left to be run. The Tour wraps up in Italy. In Saturday’s 20 kilometre race Jakš finished fourth. Defending champion from last year, Lukáš Bauer, finished 13th and is in 10th place overall. Switzerland’s Dario Cologna continues to lead with an overall time of 3 hours and 56 minutes; Norway’s Petter Northug is roughly a minute behind.

Tennis: Soderling defeats Štepánek in Brisbane semi-final

Czech tennis player Radek Štepánek has fallen just short of the finals in the Brisbane International, a run-up to the Australian Open. Štepánek was beaten in straight sets by Swede Robin Soderling, 3:6, 5:7. The match took just one hour and 22 minutes. In 2009, Štepánek won the tournament; last year he was beaten in the final by American Andy Roddick, who will face Soderling for this year’s title.

Cyclo-cross: Štybar wins championship for fifth time

The defending World Cyclo-cross champion Zdenek Štybar won the Czech championship for the fifth time on Saturday, almost a minute ahead of nearest rival Martin Zlámalík in the race, which was held in the Hlinsko area. Jaroslav Kulhavý finished in third place. The championship race on Saturday was the 60th in the history of Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic. Štybar’s record of five wins ties that of Petr Dlask; the all-time record of seven wins belongs to Radomír Šimůnek, who passed away last year.


Sunday should be mostly cloudy with some sunny periods. Daytime temperatures are expected to range between 1 and 5 degrees Celsius.