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06-05-2014 19:16 | Ian Willoughby

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German president visits former Terezín concentration camp during state visit

The German president, Joachim Gauck, visited the former WWII ghetto and concentration camp at Terezín in central Bohemia on Tuesday afternoon. He was accompanied by his Czech counterpart, Milos Zeman, who said Mr. Gauck’s visit followed logically from his 2012 visit to Lidice. The German head of state viewed the small fortress at Terezín, which the Prague Gestapo used as a prison. Around 155,000 people, almost all of the Jewish, passed through Terezín in the course of the war; nearly 120,000 died, around 35,000 of them at Terezín itself. Prague’s Rabbi Karel Sidon, who brought Tuesday’s memorial ceremony to a close, said he regarded Mr. Gauck’s visit not as a mere gesture but an expression of interest. The German head of state is on a three-day state visit to the Czech Republic.

Occupation sad culmination of Czech-German coexistence, says Gauck in Prague

The German occupation of the Czech lands was the sad culmination of the two nations’ coexistence, the German president, Joachim Gauck, said in Prague on Tuesday. Speaking to students at Charles University on the second day of a state visit, Mr. Gauck said the post-war expulsion of ethnic Germans had been the final act of that drama. He praised the work of young Czech academics and others in exploring that subject, and commended the Czech recognition of Sudeten German resisters in 2005.

President signs law extending period of service soldiers need to qualify for veteran status

The Czech president, Miloš Zeman, has signed into law legislation requiring that soldiers serve at least 90 days in a conflict zone before they can be considered war veterans. Previously they were defined as veterans after 30 days of such service. The minister of defence, Martin Stropnický, said the move would help maintain the high moral credit attached to the status of war veteran. Soldiers who take part in operations with a lower security risk must serve 360 days to qualify as vets.

Social Democrats create team of spokespeople on areas where partners hold ministries

The governing Social Democrats have put together a team of spokespeople on areas in which its coalition partners ANO and the Christian Democrats hold ministries, Hospodářské noviny reported on Tuesday. The newspaper said the spokespeople’s unofficial task would be to draw attention to any mistakes by the other parties’ ministers and present alternative views. The unusual move comes in reaction to the growing dominance of ANO, the daily said.

Czech natural gas consumption down by nearly 20 pct in Q1

The Czech Republic’s consumption of natural gas dropped annually by 19.7 percent in the first three months of this year, according to fresh figures by the Czech Gas Association. In total, 2.7 billion cubic metres of gas were consumed in the country in the first quarter. The association says extraordinarily warm weather was behind the drop; this March was the warmest in 50 years. The sharpest drop in natural gas consumption was registered in Prague. Last year, a total of 8.37 million cubic metres of gas were consumed, which was 1.7 percent more than in 2012.

Mayor: Prague will hold tender to find replacement for Opencard

The authorities in Prague say they will not pay the amount demanded by the company eMoneyServices to continue licensing the Opencard, an electronic card used for travel and other services in the city. Mayor Tomáš Hudeček said on Tuesday that an offer it received from eMoneyServices was unacceptable. He said City Hall was preparing a tender process to select a new card system; such a move would evidently put paid to the controversial Opencard, which has cost close to CZK 1.2 billion.

Czech Republic may miss out on CZK 10 billion in EU research funding, says minister

The Czech Republic may fail to draw on up CZK 10 billion of European Union funding available for research and development projects, the minister of education, Marcel Chládek, said on Tuesday. Mr. Chládek said he hoped to cut that figure by around CZK 4 billion. Previous estimates had suggested that around CZK 7.5 billion of potential EU funding for that area would not be accessed. A programme for research and development administered by the Ministry of Education is building six major scientific centres around the country. However, legislation on public tenders was complicating the use of EU money for those projects, Mr. Chládek said.

Opening concert of Prague Spring to pay tribute to late conducting great Rafael Kubelík

The opening concert of this year’s Prague Spring International Music Festival will be a tribute to the great Czech conductor Rafael Kubelík, who was born 100 years ago in June and died in 1996. Next Monday’s curtain raiser, featuring the traditional My Country by Smetana, will be performed by the Czech Philharmonic helmed by Jiří Bělohlávek. Kubelík conducted the first ever Prague Spring opening concert in 1946 and, after his return from exile, the first after the fall of Communism, in 1990. Six pieces by Czech composers will receive their world premiere in the first week of the Prague Spring, which runs until June 2 and is being held for the 69th time.

Anifilm animation festival kicks off in Třeboň

The annual Anifilm international festival of animated films has begun in the South Bohemian town of Třeboň. The six-day event will feature over 350 films, while the Czech director and screenwriter Zdeněk Smetana will receive a lifetime achievement award. Previously the Czech Republic had two such film festivals but this year Anifilm has incorporated Anifest, which began the tradition of animation showcases in Třeboň in 2002.

MPs to debate Czech accession to EU’s Fiscal Compact

The lower house of the Czech Parliament is on Tuesday set to debate the country’s accession to the EU’s Fiscal Compact, a set of rules aimed at enforcing fiscal discipline. The treaty, adopted last year by 12 Euro-zone countries, will have to be approved by a two-thirds majority in both houses of Parliament to enter into force in the Czech Republic. MPs are also set to discuss an increase to state-covered health insurance provided for minors, retired people, and other groups. Raising the insurance payments is considered crucial for stabilizing the financially depressed Czech health care sector.

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