Those were the headlines, now the news in more detail:
A special government commission has produced a list containing two thousand five hundred works of art that were stolen from Jewish victims of the Nazi Holocaust, and which currently belong to the state. The owners of the works of art were all Czech Jews, and it is believed that some of them may have survived the Nazi concentration camps, or that many will have next of kin still alive. The commission intends to place the works of art on the Internet, with pictures and information on the people that owned them. The government's intention, says Deputy Prime Minister Pavel Rychetsky, is to return all of these works of art to their rightful owners, or their next of kin. The commission has called on galleries and museums not owned by the state to do the same.
The Czech Republic's human rights commissioner, Petr Uhl, presented a proposal in parliament on Wednesday for the creation of an Office for Ethnic Equality and Roma Integration. The office would be given up to one billion Czech Crowns, or around thirty million dollars, annually to provide support to Roma in locating work and resolving accommodation problems. The proposal will be presented to the cabinet by Deputy Prime Minister Pavel Rychetsky by the end of the first quarter, as part of a revised minorities law. The proposal was welcomed by Roma representatives, who said that despite their reservations, it was definitely the best proposal they had received so far. More is needed , they said, to fulfil the vision they have of Czech society where everyone would be equal.
Deputy Prime Minister Pavel Rychetsky has denied that a new law could be responsible for prison protests in fifteen of the country's thirty three prisons. The protests began on Monday in the prison in Vinarice and then spread around the country. The prisoners say they are protesting against a lack of food, poor clothing, overcrowding, and a new law that limits the number of parcels they can receive, and forces them to pay compensation to the victims of their crimes. According to the Deputy Prime Minister, however, this is a false claim. The riots, he said, are purely about living conditions in jails, and the current state of Czech prisons has been brought about by the neglect of previous governments. On Wednesday, the Ministry of Justice promised that fifteen of the protesting prisoners' sixteen short-term demands will be met. The ministry, however, refused to discuss the removal of prison directors, the prisoners' main demand, saying that this a matter for the prison service director to decide. The prisoners say they will continue their protest until the prison directors are removed from their posts.
The government announced on Wednesday that it is pleased with recent progress made on EU integration. Government spokesman Libor Roucek said that all of the tasks that have been set in the past few months have been fulfilled. All of the legislation necessary for EU integration will be presented to parliament and should be passed by June, Mr. Roucek stated. Following a rather negative report from the European Commission in October last year, the government compiled a list of the legislation required, and the laws the government now intends to pass to parliament are apparently a direct result of this process.
The presidium of the National Property Fund will discuss the future of fund chairman Jan Steiss on Friday. The Ministry of the Interior announced on Tuesday that Mr. Steiss possesses a forged screening certificate. Since the Velvet Revolution, all high ranking public officials have to undergo screening to check that they were not involved in any way with the secret police of the old Communist regime. The Ministry of the Interior began investigating Mr. Steiss two months ago after the daily newspaper Lidove Noviny claimed that there was a man with the same name and birth date as Jan Steiss listed as an agent in the secret police's files. Mr. Steiss has claimed that he was unaware that his screening certificate was a forgery, and has offered to go through the screening process again, denying that he ever worked for the secret police.
The Chief of Staff of the Czech armed forces, Jiri Sedivy has announced that the effectiveness of Czech troops in NATO is under threat from slow security checks. Officers must undergo security checks before being allowed to join NATO projects and international missions. The Chief of Staff said that in dozens of cases the officers working on NATO projects had had to be replaced because they had not yet undergone security checks. The number of security checks has been slowing down in recent months, when the process should actually be accelerated. Jiri Sedivy now wants to take the issue up with the government, in particular the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of the Interior, which are responsible for carrying out security checks.
The number of Roma seeking asylum in Great Britain increased once more in December. Although figures have not yet been released, it is likely that the number of asylum seekers exceeded all previous records. The Foreign Office announced last year that the introduction of visa restrictions for Czechs will depend on the future development of the situation. This threat therefore remains a possibility, and will no doubt be discussed between Czech Foreign Minster Jan Kavan and his British counterpart Robin Cook on Thursday when Mr. Kavan arrives in London for a three day visit.
The Republican Party has handed President Havel a request for a pardon for a party member charged with racial and religious slander. The suspect allegedly placed photographs of leading Czech politicians in the party's notice board in the North Bohemian town of Decin, with a sign saying "Jewish masons and murderers of the nation", and underneath the photographs he put a second sign with the words "The aim of these Jews is the destruction of the state and the liquidation of the nation". The request for a pardon was handed to the president directly by a local Republican Party official in the spa town where the president is on holiday. The party has decided to ask for a pardon because the president recently pardoned a Roma woman who called the Czechs "swine", amongst other things, during a television interview in October. President Havel pardoned the woman because he said that the TV station that interviewed her, TV Nova, had abused the emotionally tense situation surrounding the construction of the Maticni Street wall in Usti nad Labem.
In a letter to Prime Minister Milos Zeman, Communist Party leader Miroslav Grebenicek has accused the government deliberately failing to apply the state's ownership rights in various companies. Instead of this, Mr. Grebenicek continues, the government keeps pumping taxpayers' money into failing banks, but fails to increase the state's influence in the running of these banks in accordingly. The government further lets companies be sold for less than their real value, or lets them go under, with the loss of tens of thousands of jobs. One of the main problems, says Mr. Grebenicek, is that the government spends too much time on political games and arguing about cabinet changes, and not enough time providing a real solution to this problem.
We should see clear to partially cloudy skies today, with fog in places. Temperatures during the day should range between minus three and plus one degree centigrade. The weather should continue like this through to Saturday.
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