According to a report published by the Russian Interfax news agency the group of OSCE observers who are being detained by Russian separatists in the town of Slaviansk, in eastern Ukraine, are unharmed and are being treated as “guests”. The town’s pro-Russian mayor Vjacheslav Ponomarjov confirmed on Monday that an offer had been made to exchange them for Russian separatists held in Kiev. According to the Czech ambassador to Kiev, the negotiations are complicated and the Ukrainian government has not yet responded to the offer. The Ukrainian Intelligence Service says it has evidence that the operation in which OSCE observers were taken hostage was masterminded by the Russian military intelligence. Among the captives are German, Czech, Polish and Danish nationals. A Swede who suffers from diabetes was released on Sunday.
At a security conference in Prague, EU Commissioner for Expansion Stephan Fule said the international community had seriously underestimated Russia. Mr. Fule said the EU and its allies in the democratic world should have been warned of the dangers when Russian President Vladimir Putin said the disintegration of the Soviet Union was the worst disaster of the 20th century or when he described Ukraine as an “artificial” state. Former EU commissioner for labour Vladimír Špidla noted that it was rather surprising that Russia, which annexed Crimea heedless of international protests, was still a member of the UN Security Council.
The Czech foreign minister, Lubomír Zaorálek, on Monday began a three-day visit to Beijing aimed at improving relations with China in an attempt to boost trade between the two countries and attract Chinese investors to the Czech Republic. The two sides are expected to sign a proclamation with which Prague will commit itself not to question the occupation of Tibet. The Czech government’s decision, driven by the need to diversify the country’s business interests and break its export dependence on the EU has come under fire from human rights activists. Czech government officials counter that Prague is only adopting the official EU policy line towards China. It is the first visit to Beijing by a Czech foreign minister in 15 years.
The Indonesian Embassy in Prague has filed a complaint to the Czech Foreign Ministry over Friday’s police raid at the headquarters of Prague’s Islamic Foundation and a mosque on the outskirts of the city. The raid, made in connection with an allegedly racist publication, took place during Friday prayers disrupting the ceremony attended by around one hundred believers, including women and children. Among them were members of the Indonesian Embassy who were detained for an hour and a half despite their diplomatic status. The police detained 20 people and charged one of inciting racial hatred and xenophobia.
A number of Czech towns and cities marked Holocaust Remembrance Day on Monday with traditional outdoor ceremonies at which the names of Holocaust victims are read out by politicians, church dignitaries and leading cultural figures. In the Czech capital the ceremony took place at Prague’s Náměstí Míru square attended among others by the minister for human rights and minorities, Jiří Dienstbier, the Israeli ambassador to Prague Garz Koren and others. The event, held for the 9th year now, is jointly organized by the Foundation for Holocaust Victims and the Terezín Initiative Institute. Of Czechoslovakia’s pre-war Jewish population of 350,000, 250,000 died during the Holocaust.
The Czech government today approved state aid for a phase-out of the Paskov mine in northern Moravia, where mining will continue for three more years and the government will pay 600 million crowns for social programmes for miners. The aid is yet to be approved by the European Commission. It ensues from the agreement between the state and the New World Resources (NWR) firm, which controls the mine, that NRW will maintain the minimal average number of 1800 core employees. In the course of 2017, the number can be lowered to 1600. The mine´s owner, OKD, retains the possibility of operating Paskov after 2017 if it chooses so.
President Miloš Zeman will meet with Environment Minister Richard Brabec on Tuesday to discuss the future of the Šumava National Park and the circumstances surrounding the dismissal of the head of the park’s management Jiří Mánek last week. Mr. Mánek’s vision for the nature reserve was supported by the locals but met with strong opposition from environment activists who accused him of giving way to loggers and developers. President Zeman’s spokesman said on Monday that the head of state believed that the prosperity of the Šumava mountain villages should be taken into account by those shaping the future of the nature reserve.
The performance of Czech members of the European Parliament is below average, according to the results of a study published by the European Values think tank. Out of an overall 22 Czech MEPs, Oldřich Vlasák of the Civic Democrats, Zuzana Roithová of the Christian Democratic Party and Olga Sehnalová of the Social Democrats were rated the most active, while the work morale of the others was mediocre to poor. The study evaluated the MEP's participation in meetings, the number of tabled resolutions, and the frequency of their speeches. It also involved a comparison with the work of MEPs from other countries.
Cranes were used to launch an historic cruise boat to Mácha's Lake, north Bohemia, after undergoing renovation costing five million crowns. The boat, the only one of its kind, was first launched in 1959 with the help of a Soviet T-34 tank. It can carry up to 250 passengers. Renovation is not yet 100% complete: wooden elements and new windows will be installed after the boat has settled for some time on the water. Mácha's Lake (Máchovo jezero) is a highly-sought tourist destination in the Czech Republic, particularly in the spring and summer months.
After edging earlier tournament favourites such as Russia or the defending champions Canada at the U-18 hockey worlds the Czech Republic's U-18 squad hit a wall against the United States, losing the final in Finland on Sunday by a score of 5:2. The silver medal finish is nevertheless an historic result for the Czech U-18 squad, which had never before made it to the gold medal match in the competition.
My Prague – Rob Cameron
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