Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda, on a tour of the Middle East, has met with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. On Saturday the Foreign Minister accompanied Mr Arafat to view the leader's former headquarters in Ramallah, destroyed by Israeli forces. During their meeting Mr Svoboda said the Czech Republic recognised the Palestinians' right to a sovereign state. However, he stressed the need for the Palestinian leadership to clamp down on terrorist groups. For his part Mr Arafat urged the Czech Republic - a future EU member - to take advantage of good relations with Israel to encourage the state to honour its requirements in the proposed peace plan. Mr Arafat contended these were not being met at the current time. Finally, Mr Arafat was not the only Palestinian leader the Czech Foreign Minister met with on Saturday: Mr Svoboda also had the chance to talk with Palestinian counterpart Nabil Shaath, as well as Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei.
The editor-in-chief of the independent weekly Respekt Tomas Nemecek is in hospital after being attacked by unknown assailants on Saturday morning. The attack took place outside Mr Nemecek's home in Prague. Two men estimated to be in their early twenties assaulted the journalist by first spraying tear gas in his face and kicking him repeatedly in the head. The assailants then escaped the scene, leaving passers-by to take Mr Nemecek to hospital. There he was treated for cuts and bruises and a mild concussion. Police have begun investigating whether the assault was a chance happening or a motivated attack against Mr Nemecek's paper, currently involved in lawsuits with several businesses and political groups.
Around 130 visitors from around the Czech Republic and abroad gathered in the town of Vsetaty, near Melnik, north of Prague on Saturday, to remember Jan Palach, the 20-year-old student of philosophy who set himself on fire in 1969 in protest of the occupation of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact troops. Vsetaty was Mr Palach's home town. Saturday's gathering saw several speakers honour Jan Palach's sacrifice, including doctor Tomas Roith, who took part in the very first commemoration of the drastic suicide in 1969. Describing Jan Palach's act, Mr Roith said the suicide had been a warning against encroaching "normalisation" - the period that choked all remnants of political and cultural reforms known as the Prague Spring. Another speaker Antonin Vrba meanwhile said Mr Palach's act was misunderstood even today: in his words Mr Palach's suicide was "not only a protest against the Soviet-led invasion but foremost a protest against the loss of Prague Spring ideals".
According to the Czech news agency CTK Health Minister Marie Souckova has pledged she will resign if upcoming reforms in the healthcare sector failed to pass in Parliament. Mrs Souckova told the agency she made the promise at both a Friday meeting of the Social Democratic Party's national leadership and a regional conference in south Moravia on Saturday. Reacting to his health minister's words, Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla said Mrs Souckova's pledge was nothing unusual in political life, indicating crucial decisions required full conviction. Mrs Souckova is confident her planned reforms can help stabilise financial problems in the healthcare sector. She has stressed that despite problems Czech healthcare is still highly regarded abroad, known for its well-trained and highly experienced professionals.
Representatives from the Freedom Union, a junior member of the country's ruling coalition, have indicated they could imagine better candidates to represent the Czech Republic in the EU than current Social Democrat candidate Milos Kuzvart. Although the Freedom Union put forward no concrete nominees on Saturday, Freedom Union leader Petr Mares said his party favoured individuals with international experience, like former diplomat to the U.S. Alexandr Vondra, or current Ambassador to the European Union Pavel Telicka. Mr Mares said he imagined three names could be put forward for the post. Originally, it has been expected that the government, made up of the ruling Social Democrats, the Christian Democrats, and the Freedom Union, would only put forward a single candidate.
Sunday is expected to be mostly cloudy with a chance for some sunny intervals. Daytime temperatures are expected to hover between 0 and 4 degrees Celsius.
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