News Netherlands toughest opponents in Czech group for Euro 2016
The Czech Republic have drawn the Netherlands, who will be favourites to come first, Turkey, Latvia, Iceland and Kazakhstan in their qualifying group for soccer’s European Championship in France in 2016. The first two teams in each group will reach the competition automatically, as will the best of the third placed teams. The Czechs failed to reach this year’s World Cup but have since acquired a new manager in Pavel Vrba.
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Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said the Czech Republic was unlikely to recognize the outcome of a Crimean referendum on joining Russia, since such a vote was in violation of Ukrainian law. Speaking on Czech public television on Sunday, Mr. Sobotka said the Czech Republic recognized the legitimacy of the new Ukrainian leadership and supported its efforts to enter into negotiations with Russia on resolving the conflict. The Czech government has come out strongly in support of a diplomatic solution to the conflict, saying economic sanctions would hurt all parties involved.
Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said he was unperturbed by claims that a document in the archives of the Czech communist secret police contains details of a meeting between members of the then secret police and Andrej Babiš, who now holds the finance ministry portfolio. Details of the document in which Mr. Babiš talks about bribery in the firm Petrimex, are to be published in Monday’s edition of Euro magazine. Mr. Sobotka said none of the information was new or surprising and that Mr. Babiš had repeatedly explained that a foreign trade employee under the communist regime he had been unable to avoid questioning by the secret service. He has rejected the idea that he actively collaborated with the communist secret service as an agent and is trying to clear his name in court in neighbouring Slovakia where he appeared on a list of communist police collaborators.
The governor of the central bank, Miroslav Singer, said the bank board was debating when best to curtail the forex interventions launched last November to weaken the crown in order to avoid deflation. Mr. Singer said that the economic figures released in the first two months of this year were proof that the decision had been the right one and that the move had no stiffled economic growth. He said he expected a very mild strengthening of the crown once the interventions were concluded and noted that the board would not risk a premature decision to end the interventions and face the same problem. The central bank’s decision has come under fire from many politicians and analysts who said that weakening the crown was not a good decision at a time when the country was coming out of a drawn-out crisis.
Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said the Višegrad Group’s appeal to the United States to boost natural gas exports to Europe was part of the Czech government’s long-term goal to improve the country’s energy security and lower its dependence on oil and gas supplies from Russia. The Czech prime minister said during EU talks in Brussels that the development in Ukraine had emphasized the need to improve energy security in Europe, noting that the EU would be in a better position to respond to the Crimean crisis were it not dependent on Russian oil and gas. The ambassadors of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and Hungary on Friday asked the US to boost natural gas exports to Europe as a hedge against the possibility that Russia could cut off its supply of gas to Ukraine.
A concert at Prague’s Rudolfinum on Saturday marked the 70th anniversary of the biggest mass murder of Czechoslovak citizens during WWII. On the night of March 8, close to 3,800 prisoners from Terezín – men, women and children were transported to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp and gassed. The commemorative concert included the works of Jewish composers who were murdered at Auschwitz. The Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra performed them under conductor Libor Pešek and in cooperation with the pianist Martin Kasík, violinist Pavel Šporcl, members of the Disman Radio Children’s Choir, Czech Radio Children´s Choir and Prague Philharmonic Choir.
Demonstrations against the Russian intervention in Crimea were held in four Czech cities over the weekend. The protests, held under the motto "For Your and Our Freedom", were staged in Prague, Brno, Plzen and Karlovy Vary, and were attended by Ukrainians and Russians living in the Czech Republic as well as Czechs concerned about the recent developments in Crimea. Among those who joined the protest in Prague was the former foreign minister Karel Schwarzenberg who said he felt the need to show solidarity with Ukraine in this this difficult time. He recalled that the Czechs experienced twice what the Ukrainians are experiencing today, making a reference to the German occupation in 1939 and the Soviet-led invasion in 1968.
Czech President Miloš Zeman and the former British prime minister Tony Blair had an informal meeting at Lany chateau outside Prague on Saturday evening. According to the president’s spokesman they debated the European Union and the situation in Ukraine. Mr. Blair also took part in an economic forum in Prague on the future of Europe and its competitivness. The two officials last met two years ago in London.
Military observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe on Saturday made a third futile attempt to enter Ukraine's Crimea Peninsula, having once again been forced back by Russian troops firing warning shots into the air. The 37-member OSCE mission, which includes two Czechs, was to have monitored the situation in the region, visited Ukrainian military installations in Crimea and the headquarters of the Russian fleet in Sevastopol. Its week-long mission is due to expire on Tuesday. Similarly, UN Special envoy Robert Serry, who arrived in Crimea last Wednesday, was forced to leave the region almost immediately, after being attacked and threatened by pro-Russian activists.
The Višegrad Group states are urging the United States to boost natural gas exports to Europe as a hedge against the possibility that Russia could cut off its supply of gas to Ukraine. Ambassadors from the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland made the appeal in a letter to the US Congress. The letter asks for Congress to support speedier approval of natural gas exports, noting that the "presence of U.S. natural gas would be much welcome in Central and Eastern Europe." The ambassadors warn that the unrest in Ukraine has brought back Cold War memories and that energy security threatens the region's residents on a daily basis.
Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka is to pay a two-day working visit to Germany at the end of next week. His talks with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel on March 13th are expected to cover EU and bilateral issues as well as the crisis in Ukraine. It will be the prime minister’s third foreign trip abroad in office, after Slovakia and Poland.