Participants in a two-day Eastern Partnership summit in Prague have urged Russia to pull its troops from the Ukrainian border in order to prevent a further escalation of the conflict. In a joint proclamation they recommended a decentralization of Ukraine and offered to mediate talks between the two country’s officials. The meeting of EU representatives and six post-Soviet republics who are seeking to establish closer political and economic ties with the EU was dominated by the deepening crisis in Ukraine. The EU Commissioner for Expansion Štefan Fule told the gathering the crisis in Ukraine was the worst crisis in Europe since 1945 and a signal for the EU to give greater support to the EU’s Eastern Partnership Project. The Eastern Partnership was joined by Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine during the Czech EU presidency in 2009.
Ukraine’s acting foreign minister Andrii Deshchytsia has said Ukraine wants a diplomatic solution to the crisis but is ready for military action against Russia should the need arise. Mr. Deshchytsia, who is attending the EU’s Eastern Partnership summit in Prague, said the Geneva agreement had paved the way for a solution to the crisis but Russia was further escalating tension by supporting radicals in eastern Ukraine. He said Ukrainian security forces had been told to firmly restore order while doing their utmost to avoid bloodshed.
The Czech Army has plans to move up to 1,200 soldiers to the border of the Czech Republic to help police protect it if the situation in Ukraine worsens significantly, the newspaper Hospodářské Noviny reported on Friday. Planned Czech reactions, including protection of key installations such as nuclear reactors, would amount to the biggest manoeuvres since 2001. Chief of the General Staff Petr Pavel told the paper that a wave of emigration could be sparked by conflict and problems could also occur with the large Ukrainian population resident in the Czech Republic. There are no plans for a direct NATO intervention in Ukraine, he added.
Environment Minister Richard Brabec has dismissed the head of the Šumava National Park Jiří Mánek in a drawn-out controversy over the future of the nature reserve. The head of the nature reserve was sacked shortly after producing a long-term strategy for the park’s development which failed to respect scientific recommendations for its protection. Mr. Manek himself had repeatedly come under fire from nature conservationists and environment activists for allegedly giving way to the ruthless interests of loggers and developers. A group of Czech scientists recently threatened to take legal action against the Czech Republic over its alleged failure to adequately protect the nature reserve.
The police’s organized crime squad raided several Prague sites on Friday, including the headquarters of the Islamic Foundation, a cultural centre near Wenceslas Square, on suspicion of the illegal publishing and distribution of a book inciting racism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia, a spokesman for the organized crime squad said on Friday. One of the raids took place in the Islamic Foundation’s house of prayer, disrupting the religious gathering. One of the people present, the first secretary of the Indonesian Embassy, told the ctk news agency the police stormed the premises telling people to lie down face of the floor as they searched the grounds. Five people were arrested. The police did not specify what publication they were looking for.
Czech Defense Minister Martin Stropnický on Friday visited the Czech contingent in Mali deployed there within the EU military training mission in the country. The Czech military has 34 soldiers in Bamak and four more specialists at the military base in Kati. They are helping train the Mali Armed Forces. The government is expected to decide in the coming days whether to extend the mission’s mandate and expand the number of troops to 50.
The governor of the Vysočina region and lower house deputy Jiří Běhounek has said he will ignore a party recommendation for him to give up one of his posts. Governor Běhounek, an MP for the Social Democrats, said he had no trouble fulfilling his duties both as MP and governor and argued that his presence in the lower house made it easier for him to communicate the region’s needs to colleague MPs and cabinet ministers. The move was criticized by party leader and Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka who has fought against the practice of politicians holding several important posts each of which is time consuming.
Czech President Miloš Zeman was elected winner of the 2013 Oil Guzzler award, a mock prize established by environmental groups to highlight the worst anti-environmental stance, decision or project in any given year. Mr. Zeman received the award for promoting the 380km-long Danube-Oder-Elbe water corridor project. Critics say that if built, the project would destroy the remnants of the natural ecosystems of Central Europe and it would only benefit construction firms. Mr. Zeman discussed the project with his Austrian counterpart Heinz Fischer at the EU´s Eastern Partnership summit in Prague on Friday, arguing that it would create thousands of new jobs and prevent disastrous floods.
The Prague Transport authority has warned passengers that four tram lines cutting across Wenceslas Square in the centre of Prague will be re-routed for a period of two months for maintenance work. The planned fall-out between Lazarská and Jindřišská streets will come into effect this Saturday and last until June 28th. People covering this stretch will either have to use the metro or walk. The scheduled repair work on tram lines is also expected to complicate car traffic in the city centre.
In ice hockey, Lev Praha failed to take a decisive lead in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) finals with defensive errors in the third period allowing Magnitogorsk to take the match 5:3 and tie the best of seven series 2:2. The game had been drawn at 3:3 going into the final period. In spite of late pressure, Lev failed to claw back any goals. The series now moves to Russia with game five scheduled for Saturday. A Czech record KHL audience of just over 17,000 watched the match.