The Social Democrats' three day party convention has gotten underway in Prague, with Social Democrat chairman and prime minister Vladimir Spidla speaking to delegates on Friday. Mr Spidla told those in attendance he had made mistakes in his handling of recent presidential elections, but called for unity within his party, saying the Social Democrats had far more opportunities to implement their policies within the current government than under any other scenarios. The convention, which shall either reconfirm Mr Spidla's leadership or bring a new chairman to the fore, comes after months of political infighting within the Social Democratic Party. The party crisis came to a head during the presidential elections, when the party failed to unanimously support the government's joint candidate. Whether the prime minister will now be able to reassert his authority at the convention remains unclear. For the time being, however, Mr Spidla remains the only official candidate up for the chairmanship.
Officials at the Defence Ministry have revealed the ministry is preparing to ask parliament to approve sending a military field hospital to support US-led coalition forces in Iraq. Under the proposal, lawmakers may be asked to give a green light to the Czech Army's 7th field hospital unit -- with 50 doctors and 100 support staff - to go into operation in or around the city of Basra in southern Iraq. Although plans have not yet been finalised, the field hospital could be accompanied by additional soldiers and could be assigned to care for injured civilians, a ministry spokesman told the German news agency DPA on Friday. If confirmed the unit would become the second Czech military contingent operating in the Gulf. Some 385 army specialists with a nuclear, biological and chemical weapons detection unit - working alongside a similar unit of 69 Slovak experts - have already been stationed in Kuwait.
The US has asked the Czech Republic to provide a liason officer to take part in a team that would be responsible for civilian administration in a post-war Iraq. The information was released on Friday with Deputy Foreign Minister Rudolf Jindrak saying Czech officials were currently discussing the US request. However, the specifics for the renewal of Iraq remain unclear at this time: it is not yet certain whether the country would be administered by the UN, the US, or Great Britain after the war. The Czech Republic pledged its support for an EU resolution last week stressing the UN play a key role in the future of a post-war Iraq.
Police president Jiri Kolar has told BBC radio that five Iraqi diplomats, expelled from the country for allegedly planning an attack on the Prague headquarters of the US-funded Radio Free Europe, did not represent the only threat to the station. While Mr Kolar said the expulsions minimised the danger, he stressed it was necessary to maintain security, adding the operation had been a success so far. Czech police have been guarding Radio Free Europe ever since the September 11th attacks on the United States. The station's spokeswoman Sonia Winter said on Friday that the US-run site had been put on heightened alert in connection with the continuing war against Iraq.
A woman in Prague has been hospitalised for a possible infection of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, bringing the current number of patients being closely monitored by doctors in Czech hospitals to four. Earlier in the week three patients were released from surveillance after earlier indications proved negative. None of the patients currently in hospital carry all the symptoms of the disease. SARS is an extreme form of pneumonia that is said to have killed 53 world-wide.
The US embassy in Prague is planning on stiffening protocol concerning visa applications for the summer season consular officials revealed on Friday. Under the new system almost all new applicants will be interviewed, whereas only about a third were interviewed previously. Also a possibility: that the cost of a visa, currently priced at 100 dollars US, could go up. The head of the consular section Richard Appleton made the announcement on Friday, indicating that the possibility of visas being waived for Czechs visiting the US was not a priority at this time.
Saturday is expected to be partly cloudy with a chance of showers and daytime temperatures of about 14 degrees Celsius.
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