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Archive for the ‘Central Land of Koruna’ Category

Prague’s fabled astronomical clock returns in former beauty

September 26, 2018

PRAGUE (AP) — Prague’s fabled astronomical clock is returning to the Czech capital’s picturesque Old Town Square after a complex repair operation restored the medieval landmark to its former glory. The 608-year-old clock, a must-see for many tourists with its hourly moving display of the 12 apostles and other figures, was removed in January for its first major repair since World War II.

With the clock set to resume operations on Friday at 6 p.m. (1600 GMT), here’s a look at its history and restoration:

HISTORY

The clock, believed installed in the City Hall’s tower in 1410, is unique because it still has its original mechanism.

A major addition came in the 18th century, when the apostles were introduced. Clock master Petr Skala said they were believed to be installed in 1723, during the reign of Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI.

The latest version of the round calendar board — which includes all 365 days of the year, the zodiac signs, the symbols of the 12 months and Prague’s coat of arms — was created by Czech artist Josef Manes in 1866.

REPAIR

As a center of the uprising against the Nazi occupying forces in the last days of WWII, Prague’s City Hall was a site of fierce battles. Parts of it were irreparably destroyed, and the clock tower was badly damaged during a devastating fire on May 8, 1945.

Skala said the latest restoration efforts aim to comprehensively fix a series of poorly done repairs, mostly from the 20th century.

As the clock has undergone numerous changes since 1410, Skala said the point was not to give it its original, 15th-century look. He said his main task was to make sure the clock’s mechanism was as reliable as possible in the future.

As part of the process, his wife Melanie cleaned every single part of it, removing old paints and rust, washing them all in citric acid five times. Metal chains installed after the war were replaced by drums with hemp ropes in the clock’s drive, its former feature.

“Chances are it will be functioning for another 600 years,” Skala said.

Among the more visible changes are a new version of the clock’s 19th-century calendar board, and a new lick of paint for the elaborate astrolabe and the figures. Two tin windows were removed, replaced with new ones made of stained glass in place since the early 20th century.

L.Hainz, a company that has taken part in various repairs of the clock since the 1860s. was involved in the works, ensuring continuity.

LEGENDS

The clock has given rise to some legends and superstitions — including a belief that the entire nation will suffer when it stops running. Another legend might be reason for concern for Skala: anyone who changes the clock or tampers with it will go mad, or die.

Some believed that the clock foretold the record flooding that hit Prague and large parts of the Czech Republic in 2002, when it briefly stopped working shortly before midnight on New Year’s Eve 2001. Officials, however, said it was due to a minor malfunction.

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Czechs boo prime minister 50 years after Soviet-led invasion

August 22, 2018

PRAGUE (AP) — A ceremony to honor the victims of the 1968 Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia on Tuesday turned into a protest against Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis. Hundreds jeered and booed Babis’ arrival for a ceremony in front of the Czech public radio building in downtown Prague, a site of a fierce street battle between unarmed civilians and invading troops in the first hours of occupation where 17 people died.

“Shame, shame…,” the crowd chanted while blowing horns and whistles during his speech. Babis didn’t immediately react to the protest. In his speech, he said Babis, a populist billionaire, is a controversial figure because of a power-sharing deal with the maverick Communist Party and fraud charges he is facing. His position is also complicated by allegations he collaborated with the former communist-era secret police.

Troops from the Warsaw Pact, a military alliance formed in 1955 between the Soviet Union and seven Eastern European nations, invaded Czechoslovakia on Aug. 20, 1968 to crush liberal reforms enacted in the brief era known as the Prague Spring. The country was subsequently taken over by a hard-line Communist regime fully loyal to Moscow.

In 1968 alone, 137 people were killed by Warsaw Pact soldiers, and a total of more than 400 died during the occupation of Czechoslovakia that ended only after the 1989 anti-communist Velvet Revolution.

In Brussels, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said that Europe isn’t divided by an Iron Curtain any more. “But let us use this day of solemn commemoration to collectively remember that freedom and the respect for human rights can never be taken for granted and need to be fought for every single day,” he said.

In another move related to the anniversary, which will likely anger Russia, Prague authorities unveiled a new explanatory text about the role of Soviet World War II commander Ivan Stepanovic Konev to his monument in Prague.

Marshall Konev led Red Army forces that liberated large parts of Czechoslovakia from Nazi occupation in 1945. His monument was unveiled in the Prague 6 district in 1980. On Tuesday, Prague 6 mayor Ondrej Kolar said the authorities wanted to give people “full information that would not conceal what happened.”

The new text describes Konev’s leading role in crushing the 1956 anti-Soviet uprising in Hungary, his contribution to the construction of the Berlin Wall and the preparation of the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia.

Russia and four other former Soviet republics had officially protested that. A small group of communists condemned at the site what they called “the rewriting of history.” Others demanded the monument was completely removed given what Konev had done.

AP Interview: Photographer documented 1968 Soviet invasion

August 19, 2018

PRAGUE (AP) — It’s been 50 years, but powerful images of the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia taken by photographer Josef Koudelka still resonate among Czechs and elsewhere in the world — they’ve even been admired in Russia.

As the armies of the five Warsaw Pact countries invaded his country an hour before midnight on Aug. 20, 1968, Koudelka was ready. Risking his life, he took thousands of photos in the week that followed, capturing the shocking experience for his nation — and the defiance of its people.

After the negatives were smuggled out of the country, the photos that were published in the West became one of the most famed documentary series of the 20th century. Looking back at 1968 in an interview with The Associated Press, Koudelka said he seized the once-in-a-career opportunity.

“The opportunity to take so many photos made it possible for me to do something I never thought I would be able to do,” Koudelka said. “And I think that a majority of people in Czechoslovakia who knew me as a photographer didn’t even think I could do anything like that.”

His photos captured the mood on the streets of Prague: the public anger, frustration and massive protests against the troops that came in with tanks to crush the Prague Spring — the brief period of liberal reforms under leader Alexander Dubcek meant to lead toward democratization of communist Czechoslovakia.

“It was a tragedy. But also miracles happened at the time,” Koudelka said. “One of the biggest miracles for me was — and that has happened at major events elsewhere — that people are able to completely change overnight.”

He said in reaction to the attack, the whole nation became united. “No matter who you were, only one thing mattered: We were all against them,” he said. One of his now-iconic photos shows a man holding his coat wide open in front of an armed soldier standing on a Soviet tank, while another one captures an elderly man trying to hit a tank with a cobblestone.

“My photos captured a moment when we behaved like a nation,” Koudelka said. “And that didn’t happen too often in our history.” Unarmed people could not stop the armies, however, and the country was subsequently taken over by a hard-line Communist regime fully loyal to Moscow. The occupying troops stayed for over 20 years and withdrew only after the 1989 Velvet Revolution led by the late Vaclav Havel.

According to historians, 137 people were killed by Warsaw Pact soldiers in 1968 alone, and a total of over 400 died during the occupation of Czechoslovakia. Koudelka’s photos were first published by media around the globe in 1969 under the attribution “P.P.” (Prague photographer) to prevent his persecution by the Communists.

He left the country in 1970 to work for the Magnum Photos agency and didn’t reveal until 1984 that he was the author of the 1968 pictures. Now 80, Koudelka is not ready to retire. He still keeps his camera busy every day.

Over his long career, he took many great photographs, including his Gypsy, Exile and Panoramas series that are in the collections of major museums, including the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.

But his 1968 photos have been most known globally. This year alone, there are exhibitions of his work in Poland, Belgium and Italy, together with a retrospective, “Returning,” at the Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague accompanied by the publication of his new book of the same name.

His photos been displayed around the world, including in China and Russia. “I never believed I would be able to take the Russian tanks to Moscow,” Koudelka said.

New Czech government wins confidence vote in Parliament

July 12, 2018

PRAGUE (AP) — The new Czech government won a mandatory confidence vote in the lower house of Parliament early Thursday, ending months of political instability following October’s general elections and giving the far-left Communists a role in governing for the first time since the country’s 1989 anti-communist Velvet Revolution.

The government is led by populist billionaire Andrej Babis as prime minister. His centrist ANO (YES) movement won the election, but his first minority government lost a confidence vote in January and had to resign.

The government’s creation took such a long time because most other parties in Parliament have been reluctant to enter a coalition with ANO because of fraud charges facing Babis, who denies wrongdoing.

Babis’ second government is made up of ANO and leftist Social Democrat deputies and it also doesn’t have a parliamentary majority. It was sworn in June 27. Babis struck a controversial power-sharing deal with the Communist Party to carve out the 105-91 vote early Thursday that put through the confidence measure required to govern,

Protesting the rising influence of the Communists, hundreds protesters rallied near the parliament building during the daylong debate. Thousands recently took to the streets to protest the planned pact with them.

The governing coalition and the Communists are united in rejecting any compulsory distribution of migrants in the European Union. Babis has also agreed to meet the Communist Party’s demand to tax the compensation that the country’s churches receive for property seized by the former Communist regime. The Communists are vocal opponents of the payment.

The deal between Babis and the Communists ensured the government’s victory in the confidence vote but it is too vague to give a clear picture of the future influence of the Communists on the government.

The hardline party is vehemently opposed to NATO and has friendly ties with the ruling communists in Cuba, China and North Korea. The Communists also oppose the deployment of Czech troops abroad, particularly to the Baltics and Poland as part of NATO missions amid the tension between Russia and the West.

Along with its anti-migrant stance, the new government opposes setting a date for the Czech Republic to adopt the EU’s common euro currency. The new Cabinet has been under the strong influence of pro-Russian President Milos Zeman, who is known for an anti-migrant rhetoric. It still doesn’t have a proper foreign minister after Zeman rejected a candidate for the post over his purportedly sympathetic views of migration.

Czech PM inks power-sharing deal with Communists

July 10, 2018

PRAGUE (AP) — Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis signed a power-sharing deal with the far-left Communist Party on Tuesday in a move that will give the maverick party a role in governing for the first time since the country’s 1989 anti-communist Velvet Revolution.

The agreement is meant to ensure the Communist Party’s support for the coalition government led by Babis in a key, mandatory confidence vote in the lower house of Parliament on Wednesday. All governments must win such a vote to stay in power.

The government of Babis’ centrist ANO (YES) movement and the leftist Social Democrats that was sworn in on June 27 doesn’t have a majority in the house and needs the Communists’ support to survive. The cooperation with the Communists is a controversial issue that recently prompted thousands of Czechs to rally against it.

Unlike most other communist parties in central Europe that have joined the left-wing mainstream in recent decades, the Czech party has maintained a hardline stance. It is vehemently opposed to NATO and has friendly ties with the ruling communists in Cuba, China and North Korea. The Communists also oppose the deployment of Czech troops abroad, particularly to the Baltics and Poland as part of NATO’s mission amid the tension between Russia and the West.

The Communists insist Russia poses no threat. To win their support, Babis agreed with their demand to tax the compensation that the country’s churches receive for property seized by the former Communist regime.

The Communist Party is a vocal opponent of the payment.

Syrian Kurdish leader detained in Prague on Turkey’s request

February 25, 2018

BEIRUT (AP) — Czech authorities detained a former leader of a Syrian Kurdish political party under an Interpol red notice that was based on Turkey’s request for his arrest, Turkish and Syrian Kurdish officials said Sunday.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Salih Muslim, former co-chair of the Democratic Union Party, or PYD, was “caught.” Speaking in Sanliurfa Sunday, Erdogan said, “Our hope, God willing, is that the Czech Republic will hand him over to Turkey.”

Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said Turkey requested Muslim’s detention for extradition after locating him in a Prague hotel. Bozdag called Muslim the “terrorist head.” A Kurdish official close to Muslim, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the former PYD leader was in Prague attending a conference. After a Turkish participant took a photograph of him, Czech police detained the Syrian politician Saturday, following a request by Turkey.

Czech police say that have arrested and placed in detention a 67-year-old foreigner at the request of Turkey’s Interpol. No further details were immediately released by Czech police. Muslim was put on Turkey’s most-wanted list earlier in February with a $1 million reward.

The Turkish justice ministry said Muslim was being tried in absentia for his alleged involvement in a March 2016 car bomb attack on Turkey’s capital, which killed 36 people and injured 125. Turkey considers the PYD a “terrorist group” linked to outlawed Kurdish insurgents fighting within Turkey’s own borders for more than three decades.

The party is the leading political Kurdish force in northern Syria, and Muslim remains highly influential even after stepping down as co-chair last year. The PYD condemned in a statement Muslim’s detention, saying the move is an “illegal and immoral act by Czech authorities” and calling for his immediate release.

The group also accused Turkey of adopting “dirty methods in chasing personalities that are playing a role in the fight against terrorism,” highlighting Muslim’s major role in mobilizing international opinion in the fight against the Islamic State group.

The United States has been backing the PYD’s armed wing, the People’s Protection Units or YPG, in combating the extremist IS. The alliance has tensed relations between Washington and Ankara, who are NATO allies.

On Jan. 20, Turkey launched an incursion into northern Syria, seeking to rout the YPG from the enclave of Afrin. The Kurdish official said the former PYD leader was invited to Prague to take part in a conference held once every six months to discuss issues linked to the Middle East such as the Syrian crisis, Turkey, and the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The justice ministry said it was submitting an extradition request for Muslim. An extradition request would have to be approved by a Czech court and by the justice minister. Muslim is a Syrian citizen.

Turkey shares a 911-kilometer border with Syria. The YPG controls much of the territory along the border.

Bilginsoy reported from Istanbul and Karel Janicek in Prague contributed to this report.

Czech lawmakers lift immunity of PM Babis over fraud claims

January 19, 2018

PRAGUE (AP) — Lawmakers in the lower house of the Czech parliament have agreed to lift the immunity from prosecution for Prime Minister Andrej Babis over alleged fraud involving EU subsidies. Friday’s 111-69 vote allows police to complete their investigation into Babis.

The case involves a farm that received an EU subsidy after its ownership was transferred from a conglomerate of some 250 companies that belonged to Babis to Babis’ family members. The EU farm subsidy was meant for medium and small businesses.

Babis has been charged but denies wrongdoing. Because of the charges, no party has been willing to form a coalition government with Babis after his ANO (YES) centrist movement won October’s parliamentary election.

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