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Part of Czechoslovakia until the "velvet divorce" in January 1993 the Czech Republic has a rich cultural heritage.
With strong traditions in folk music and theatre it has also been the
Today tourists flock to savour Czech architectural treasures which include some of the finest Baroque Art Nouveau and Cubist buildings on the continent. The hot springs of Karlovy Vary and other spas are an attraction to many.
Historic Prague is the focus of a tourist boom
The country joined the EU in May 2004 a development almost impossible to imagine just 16 years before.
Communist rule had lasted since the late 1940s. The "Prague Spring" of 1968 when leader Alexander Dubcek tried to bring in liberal reforms was crushed by Soviet tanks.
In 1989 as the curtain was coming down on communism in the Kremlin the dissident playwright Vaclav Havel spearheaded the country's velvet revolution and became the first president of post-communist Czechoslovakia.
An era ended in February 2003 when his presidency finished. It had been interrupted for only a few months at the time of the separation of the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Mr Havel saw the ghost of former Soviet military influence exorcised in 1999 when the republic was granted full membership of Nato. He left office having led it to the threshold of the EU. His old rival and successor as president Vaclav Klaus oversaw accession to the union.
President: Vaclav Klaus
The former PM and current president is known as a Eurosceptic
Vaclav Klaus of the conservative Civic Democratic Party succeeded Vaclav Havel with whom he had many clashes in previous years in the largely ceremonial role of president in February 2003.
Parliament narrowly re-elected him in February 2008.
He was the architect of Czech post-communist economic reforms serving as finance minister in the first post-communist government and prime minister between 1992 and 1997 before financial scandals contributed to the fall of his government.
Mr Klaus is a bitter opponent of closer EU integration - though he insists that his views are more "Eurorealist" than "Eurosceptic".
Prime Minister: Jan Fischer
Little-known economist Jan Fischer was named Czech interim prime minister
in April 2009 to shepherd the country through the rest of its troubled European
Union presidency and to widely anticipated early elections.
Economist Jan Fisher says he has no plans to stay on after the next election
Mr Fischer the non-partisan head of the Czech Statistical Office replaced outgoing premier Mirek Topolanek whose centre-right coalition cabinet was toppled in March 2009 midway through the Czech EU presidency.
"This cabinet will have to fulfil with honour all tasks stemming from the (EU) presidency. It will also have to minimise the impact of the economic crisis on Czech population" Mr Fischer said after his appointment.
He was given a mandate to lead the government until October with the main parties agreeing to hold early elections before then. Mr Fischer also said he had no further political ambitions and that he would return to his job at the statistics office once the mission is over.
However at a vote in September 2009 to dissolve parliament and hold a snap poll in November the centre-left Social Democrats made a sudden U-turn and voted against the plans saying they could be unconstitutional.
The about-turn meant Czechs would have to wait until regular elections in June 2010 for a chance to vote in a stable government.
The decision to appoint Fischer follows weeks of talks between the three centre-right governing coalition parties and the senior opposition Social Democrats whose no-confidence vote toppled Mr Topolanek's cabinet on 24 March.
Private media in the Czech Republic mushroomed in the 1990s and private radio and TV stations provide stiff competition for public broadcasters.
Public broadcaster Ceska Televize (CT) operates two TV networks and a 24-hour news channel. Public radio Cesky Rozhlas (CRo) operates three national networks as well as local services.
Two major private TV channels broadcast nationally and there are scores of private radio stations. BBC World Service is available on FM in many cities and towns.
The country is pressing ahead with the digitisation of TV broadcasting; there are plans to switch off analogue signals by 2012.
Press freedom is protected by a charter of basic rights. However Czech and foreign media organizations criticized an amendment to the penal code in 2009 that made it an offence for journalists to make public the contents of police wiretaps.
Around 5 million Czechs were online by December 2008 (Internetworldstats).
CTK - English-language pages
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