Prime Minister Petr Nečas is on a visit to Iraq at the head of a large Czech delegation. The two-day visit is the first made by a Czech government leader since the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003. The aim of the trip is to promote defence industry deals, for which reason Industry Minister Martin Kocourek and Defence Minister Alexandr Vondra are also in Baghdad. Among other things, the Czech Republic is interested in selling two dozen Czech-made L-159 fighter jets and is also offering to help modernise Soviet helicopters. The Czech delegation will be meeting on Monday with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg says he is concerned by Russia’s relations with its neighbours. In an interview for the Russian business paper Kommersant Mr Schwarzenberg noted that relations towards the Republic of Georgia, Belarus and Estonia were problematic and cited Russia’s reference to countries between it and the EU as its “sector of responsibility” – a parlance he said belongs in the past. The Foreign Minister also voiced concern over the heavy Russian army presence in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, saying there were enough troops there not just for the protection of the two separatist regions but for any potential war against Georgia.
According to a new poll by the CVVM agency, Mr Schwarzenberg remains the most popular partisan politician in the Czech Republic, trusted by nearly a half of the population. Social Democrat chairman Bohuslav Sobotka was suggested to be in second place, with 42% of respondents viewing him favourably, one point more than deputy chairman Jiří Dienstbier. CVVM noted that Mr Schwarzenberg, who chairs the TOP 09 party, and Mr Dienstbier were the only politicians for whom more people had favourable rather than unfavourable opinions. Among those who were viewed unfavourably by more than 40% of respondents were Finance Minister Kalousek, Public Affairs chairman Radek John, and Defence Minister Alexandr Vondra.
Last respects will be paid to economist and former finance minister Eduard Janota on Friday, in a ceremony held at Prague’s St Vitus Cathedral, the spokeswoman for the Czech Bishops’ Conference has said. The ceremony has been scheduled for 10 am and the service will be conducted by the Archbishop of Prague, Dominik Duka. Mr Janota, a highly-respected member of Jan Fischer’s interim government, died last week of heart failure while playing tennis; he was 59 years old. Politicians and many others were shocked to learn of his sudden death; the archbishop called Mr Janota a professional but someone also able to communicate with people from all walks of life.
The number of cancer patients in the Czech Republic is on the increase, according to latest statistics. More people however are being saved from death thanks to timely modern care. The statistics show a 2% rise of cancer rates in men and 1.5% in women. In 2008 there were 77,541 new cases and 27,571 deaths. The most common type of malignant tumour in the country is skin cancer, which accounted for a fourth of all cancer in 2008, followed by intestinal, lung, and breast and colon cancer. Most of the patients were over sixty, though 171 children were also diagnosed and 40 died that year.
The European Commission has proposed fining the Czech Republic 180 million crowns for agricultural land erosion. The Ministry of Agriculture say it is reviewing the proposal and may appeal. The Ministry also said that the fine could have been as high as one billion crowns, and that that was averted thanks to its own speedy tightening of regulations upon the change of government. Nearly a half of arable land in the Czech Republic is at danger of erosion.
New secondary school leaving exams have seen a fail rate of 3.8% in the oral part of the exams; 5.4% of students failed the foreign language section. The ministry has estimated that about a fifth of students will have to retake the tests in all. Oral exams will continue until the end of May. The new exams include Czech and a second subject, either mathematics or foreign language. Students must then take other tests in common subjects. The system of secondary school leaving exams has been in preparation for 14 years and has been a topic of much disagreement. Mock exams held last October resulted in exceptionally high fail rates.
The Khamoro (“sun”) festival of Roma culture kicked off its 13th year at Prague’s Manes gallery on Sunday. Festivities will continue until Saturday, May 28, during which time visitors can enjoy concerts of traditional and modern gypsy music, exhibitions and lectures. This year’s festival began with a traditional wedding ceremony, held entirely in Romani, and featuring Pop Idol finalist Jan Bendig as the groom. Over one hundred performers are expected to participate in this year’s festival.
The Olga Havlová prize for aiding the deaf has gone to Věra Strnadová, vice-president of an association for the hearing impaired. Ms Strnadová was honoured Monday, among other things, for implementing Czech subtitles on Czech DVDs and thereby “opening up the world to the hearing impaired”. The prize is awarded annually by the Olga Havlová Foundation, established by the late wife of ex-president Václav Havel.
The SKA Saint Petersburg hockey club has officially confirmed that they are working to acquire Czech hockey star Jaromír Jágr. Russian media reports that the 39-year-old forward may sign a contract this week. The team’s general manager Alexej Kasatonov said that Jágr was one of the candidates for strengthening the team, and that he was sure Jágr’s former team, Omsk, would be making an offer as well, as he currently has no contract.
Conditions over the coming days are expected to be mostly sunny with daytime highs between 21 and 26° Celsius.