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24-04-2014 18:56 | Chris Johnstone

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Eastern Partnership conference convenes in Prague

Czech president Miloš Zeman is hosting a two day conference in Prague starting Thursday on the European Union’s relations with states from the former Soviet Union, the so-called Eastern Partnership. At least nine presidents are scheduled to take part, including those of Moldova, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia. Ukraine’s acting foreign minister Andrii Deshchytsia is also expected to attend. The Eastern Partnership was created five years ago with the then Czech presidency of the European Council a major impulse behind the move.

President Zeman suggests possible mediation in Ukraine crisis

In his opening speech Eastern Partnership conference speech, President Zeman called on representatives to consider what sort of offer as intermediaries they could make in the current tension between Ukraine and Russia. The situation there could escalate into either invasion or civil war, and perhaps both, he warned. It would be too late for meaningful mediation if there were thousands of dead on each side it, Zeman said. The Eastern Partnership was a long term process which, while not laying down the foundation for EU membership, did seek to ensure that the EU had good neighbours on its borders, the Czech president added.

Foreign minister says reset of China relations does not mean climb down over human rights

Czech Foreign Minister Lubomír Zaorálek has insisted that Czech moves to reset relations with China does not mean that it has abandoned its defence of human rights. Defence of human rights remained once of the country’s fundamental principles of foreign policy according to the minister, the Czech News Agency reported. Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said Wednesday that Prague could not recognise the sovereignty and unity of China within its current borders and at the same time recognise the exiled government of Tibet. The Czech Republic should not intervene in China’s internal affairs, he added. The government agreed that Zaorálek would make a three day official trip to Beijing at the start of next week, the first by a Czech foreign minister in 15 years. Former foreign minister and leader of the TOP 09 party Karel Schwarzenberg said human rights were violated in Tibet and the across the rest of China.

Michal Hašek to give up parliamentary seat and remain regional chief

Top Social Democrat Michal Hašek has decided to give up his seat in the lower house of parliament and continue as the head of the South Moravian Region. Hašek was forced to choose between the functions by party instructions preventing politicians from occupying more than one significant post at the same time. Hašek, who is also the chairman of the Association of Regions, has seen his position in the parliamentary party plummet following a failed bid to oust party leader Bohuslav Sobotka after last October’s parliamentary elections. Several other members of the lower house must also choose whether to keep their seats or drop other functions within the next days.

Karlovy Vary regional boss says will defy party instructions over multiple posts

Meanwhile the head of the Karlovy Vary region and member of parliament Josef Novotný has said he will hang onto both posts in defiance of the Social Democrat Party instructions. Novotný said it is a plus for the region that he is also a member of parliament since it gave him access to other elected members and ministers. He added that the party’s position was discriminatory and that there is nothing in the Czech constitution preventing the accumulation of different political functions.

Czech-Slovak government meeting seeks targets defence, transport, and tax cooperation

A joint meeting of Czech and Slovak governments on Thursday in Slovakia has resulted in agreements to step up cooperation in the fight against tax evasion, transport links, and joint defence. The two countries will create a coordinator who will look at ways how the countries can better fight tax evasion. They have also set the target of filling out plans for common defence of their airspace by the end of the year. This could include the joint purchase of some equipment. As well as the meeting between Czech prime minister Bohuslav Sobotka and his Slovak counterpart Robert Fico, bilateral meetings between nearly all government ministers took place. The next meeting should take place in 2015, probably in Moravia.

Police seek to bring Opencard cases to court

Police have called for charges to be pressed against members of Prague city council’s executive body over the so-called Opencard scandal. The scandal concerns dubious public tenders and work carried out to develop a multipurpose data card for the city. Current Prague mayor Tomáš Hudeček and former mayor Bohuslav Svoboda as well as council members are suspected of breaking fair competition rules and abuse of public office. All those implicated say they are innocent. Prague’s public prosecutors’ office must now decide if the case goes to court, the office’s spokeswoman said.

Overall economic confidence higher in April thanks to consumers

Economic confidence in the Czech Republic firmed slightly in April compared with March according to a survey by the Czech Statistics Office. The composite economic confidence index advanced by 0.2 percentage points to 92.6 points. Consumer confidence showed the biggest jump of 1.7 points to 98.4 points whereas business confidence slipped by 0.1 point to 91.5 points.

Excavations take place a site of possible execution following WWII

Excavations are continuing at a village near the north eastern town of Trutnov where the remains of three bodies have already been uncovered. The bodies are believed to be those of ethnic Germans executed at the village of Rudník in June 1945 for illegal possession of weapons. Czech police are investigating the case as possible murder. Bones were discovered during work on a cycle path and sports area.

Viral success for spoof report aimed at encouraging Czechs to vote in Euro elections

A spoof television report aimed at encouraging young Czechs to vote in May’s upcoming European elections has become a viral hit viewed by more than 200,000 people. The report tells the fictional tale about how the Czech Republic lost out on the chance to claim 1o kilometres of Croatian coastline because members of the European Parliament failed to take part in a vote. The message is that Czech borders now extend to the EU’s frontiers and that there are a sea of reasons to take part in the elections. The video was put together by the Open Society Foundation’s Prague branch.

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