A special envoy will be sent to Zambia shortly to help three Czech nationals accused of espionage in the country, Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg has said. The three men aged between 35 and 45 arrived in Zambia as tourists and were detained in mid-October after taking photographs outside an air-force base in the capital Lusaka. The local authorities are holding their passports and the men have to check in once a week at a local police station while awaiting trial. If convicted, they could spend up to 25 years in prison.
General Secretary of the OECD Ángel Gurría says that the Czech government’s reforms are going in the right direction, but still have much to surmount. Mr Gurría visited Prague on Friday and offered the government a list of recommendations for improving the economic situation in the country, among them a number of health care proposals. The OECD recommends decreasing ‘excess capacities’ in hospitals, spending less on medicines and digitalizing medical documentation. The General Secretary also praised the effect of the new Labour Code on the labour market, consumption taxation and the government’s cooperation with its economic council, NERV.
Nearly two-thirds of Czechs believe the country’s international esteem is decreasing, according to an October poll published by the STEM agency. The polling agency says that opinion, held by 62% of respondents, is the most negative attitude towards the country’s international reputation yet recorded. Nonetheless, more than half of those questioned said that the Czech Republic’s foreign policy is essentially good. Those most critical of Czech foreign policy, according to the poll, were left-wing voters, particularly Communist Party sympathisers. Those most optimistic about the country’s prestige abroad favoured the senior government party, the Civic Democrats.
The Czech Foreign Ministry is prepared to send a special envoy to Zambia to attend to the case of three Czechs detained in the country on charges of alleged espionage, should the matter get more complicated, a spokesman for the ministry said on Monday. According to him Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg has been attempting to get in touch with his Zambian counterpart for several days without success. The three Czechs were arrested in the Zambian capital Lusaka in mid-October and charged with espionage after taking photos the local police found suspicious. The Czech tourists deny the charges. If sentenced they face up to 25 years in prison.
Czech and Slovak foreign ministries have agreed to provide mutual consular services for each other’s citizens and visa applicants. Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg and his Slovak counterpart Mikuláš Dzurinda signed the agreement with the aim of easing problems for tourists and decreasing costs for both countries’ consulates. Czech embassies in six countries will represent Slovakia, while Slovakia will do the same in Kenya. Similar treaties are in place with other countries.
Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg said on Thursday the Czech Republic should not distance itself from the eurozone’s debt crisis but pull its weight in helping to resolve the problem. Speaking at a conference of Czech foreign policy, Mr. Schwarzenberg said that this was a time for solidarity from all EU members, because all were in the same boat and a crisis in the eurozone would sooner or later affect everyone. The Czech Republic has taken a cautious stand to developments in the monetary alliance, and the ruling Civic Democrats have even thrown their weight behind the idea of holding a national referendum on euro adoption.
The tender on the expansion of the Czech Republic’s Temelín nuclear power plant will be the main topic discussed in a meeting between Czech Prime Minister Petr Nečas and US President Barack Obama in Washington on Thursday. According to the Czech news agency, ČTK, America is hoping to reemphasise a strong interest in the contract, worth hundreds of billions of crowns. The US-based firm Westinghouse is competing against two other bidders in the tender. The visit by Mr Nečas to the White House on Thursday could also show new progress in Czech-American ties following the US abandonment of an advance warning radar in the Czech Republic, pursued by the previous administration. Meetings with past Czech prime ministers Mirek Topolánek and Vladimír Špidla were dominated by security issues, ČTK noted, while now economic matters have come to the fore.
In related news, Czech President Václav Klaus has said that differing views on nuclear energy between the Czech Republic and Upper Austria no longer dominate Czech-Austrian talks. Mr Klaus made the statement during a visit to Linz on Tuesday, after meeting with representatives from the public and business spheres as well as members of the academia. According to the head-of-state questions of improving road infrastructure dominated. A group of about ten Austrian opponents of nuclear energy staged a protest against Temelín outside the Czech honorary consulate in Linz, but Mr Klaus said he did not believe that the protest expressed the majority view of the region's inhabitants. Nuclear-free Austria has long been opposed to the operation of nuclear power plants in the Czech Republic.
Three Czechs are being charged with espionage in Zambia. According to the local press, they were arrested in the capital, Lusaka, for making sketches of an air force base and barracks. They were released on bail on Friday, but their passports were taken to prevent them from leaving the country. A relative of one of the suspects told the Czech Press Agency they had come to the country as tourists after a business trip to South Africa, and had been casually photographing buildings in the city. The Czech ambassador in Zimbabwe is attending to their case.
Prime Minister Petr Nečas and Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg have ended a drawn-out dispute over EU competences, according to the internet website aktualne.cz. The dispute over who holds the EU agenda arose after Prime Minister Petr Nečas appointed a state secretary for EU affairs in the Office of the Government. The foreign minister promptly made an identical appointment at the foreign ministry. On Thursday the two officials signed an agreement on procedural matters in covering the EU agenda including who should represent the Czech Republic at various talks in Brussels.
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