CR: 21.02.2013 Czech PM addresses Bavarian Parliament
In a historic address to the Bavarian Parliament on Thursday Prime Minister Petr Nečas expressed regret over the post-war expulsion of millions of Sudeten Germans. He said the principle of collective guilt applied at the end of the war was an injustice that hurt thousands of innocent people, people who had significantly contributed to the economic and cultural development of the border region, but he made it clear that there could be no question of abolishing the Beneš decrees or making property claims relating to the expulsions. Very few wrongs of the past are ever corrected, the Czech prime minister noted. Mr. Nečas who is the first Czech prime minister ever to address the Bavarian Parliament, highlighted the common cultural heritage of Bavarians and Czechs expressing the hope that their common roots would help the two sides overcome the sensitive issues of the past and focus on their future in Europe.
Senate hearing on presidential amnesty
The Czech Senate is holding a public hearing on the controversial amnesty declared by President Vaclav Klaus at the start of this year. The hearing is attended by the country’s leading experts on constitutional law and the debate centers on whether the amnesty, which concerns several cases of high-profile economic crime, may not be in violation of the constitution. There have also been proposals that the constitution should be amended to curb the president’s powers in this respect. President Klaus, who continues to defend the amnesty, refused to attend the hearing.
President-elect urges government to actively defend CEZ
President-elect Miloš Zeman has slammed the Czech government for not doing enough to defend the position of the Czech power utility ČEZ in Bulgaria. Mr. Zeman said it was the duty of any government to defend its companies abroad and urged the Nečas administration to use all the means at its disposal – such as EU contacts, international arbitration mechanisms and negotiations with the outgoing Bulgarian government – to defend Czech national interests. The state-owned power utility may lose its license in Bulgaria following mass protests over electricity prices. President Václav Klaus has also criticized the Czech government for taking what he called “a passive stand” in the dispute, saying that ČEZ has been made a scapegoat for the growing social unrest in Bulgaria.
Government officials say they are doing their duty by ČEZ
Government officials have rejected the criticism. Trade and Industry Minister Martin Kuba said that it was primarily up to ČEZ to prove to the Bulgarian authorities that it had not violated any public procurement rules or any other norms. The Czech government, he said, would only make sure that the administrative proceedings against ČEZ were not politicized. Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg said he had discussed the matter both with Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nikolay Mladenov and EU officials in Brussels. Diplomacy is conducted behind-the-scenes, he noted.
Czech-Slovak relations problem-free
The Czech and Slovak foreign ministers Karel Schwarzenberg and Miroslav Lajcak, met for talks in Prague on Thursday on the side-lines of a conference marking “Twenty Years of Independent Czech and Slovak Diplomacy“. Twenty years after the break-up of Czechoslovakia the ministers described bilateral relations as “above-standard and problem-free”. The two neighbour states cooperate closely in many areas such as coordinated infrastructure projects. Both are also strong advocates of nuclear power. Every year they hold joint government-sessions focussing on bilateral relations, trade and common goals.
Criminal complaint filed against ERO
The Czech Photovoltaic Industry Association has filed a criminal complaint against the Energy Regulatory Office for allegedly having deliberately produced false data to influence a verdict on solar power passed by the Constitutional Court in 2012. The court ruled that the government was within its rights to put a retroactive tax on solar power plant investors in order to curb a solar boom. It was the Czech Photovoltaic Industry which challenged the government’s decision in court and its head Zuzana Musilová now claims the Energy Regulatory Office doctored two crucial reports on the grounds of which the court made its decision.
Tatra goes under
A court in Nový Jičín has declared bankruptcy proceedings against the heavily indebted Tatra truck company. According to the CTK news agency the company is to be sold at a bankruptcy auction in mid-March. Its price has reportedly been set at 300 million crowns. Tatra was established in 1850 for the production of carriages. In 1897 the company produced its first car named the President.
Wave of solidarity with Frenštát
Frenštát pod Radhoštěm is holding three days of mourning for the victims of this week’s tragic explosion that killed at least five people in an apartment block in the north Moravian town. The tragedy has sparked a wave of unprecedented solidarity with people sending six million crowns to a help- fund for the survivors in the course of just three days. Offers of help have been pouring in from around the country and people are offering to provide accommodation for the families who have now been left homeless. What has profoundly shocked the nation is that the explosion was a deliberate act of violence by one of the block’s inhabitants.
Food inspectors warn of second product that could contain horsemeat
Czech food inspectors, who on Wednesday confirmed the presence of horsemeat in frozen lasagne by the firm Nowaco, have warned customers about a second suspect product on the market. The Czech Food Inspection authority received warning from Germany via the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed regarding lasagne made by Eisemann in Luxembourg which has also been found to contain horsemeat. Although horsemeat is legally sold in the Czech Republic, in the form of salami, its presence must clearly be stated on the label. Violation of the law can result in a fine of up to 3 million crowns.
Armed robbers make off with 30 million
Three armed robbers held up a security van transporting a large amount of cash in Přemyslovice west of Olomouc, early on Thursday. They blocked its way in an isolated spot near a forest and after threatening the guards with machine guns, they made off with 30 million crowns. Police have closed off a large part of the area and intensified checks of vehicles around the country. No one was reported hurt in the hold-up.
The coming days should bring more overcast skies and snow showers with day temperatures dropping to - 3 degrees Celsius.
20.02.2013 Horsemeat found in lasagna packages
Two batches of pre-made frozen lasagna that were set to be sold by Tesco in the Czech Republic were found to contain horsemeat instead of beef, which was stated in the ingredients. The Czech Agriculture and Food Inspection Authority ordered Tesco to take all of the Nowaco frozen lasagna off the shelves, since the label was misleading customers. The batches that were found to contain horsemeat were marked as having been produced in Luxembourg. Horsemeat can be legally sold in the Czech Republic.
ČEZ still has license in Bulgaria
The Bulgarian energy regulator announced on Wednesday morning that although proceedings aimed at revoking the distribution license of Czech energy company ČEZ have been launched, a final decision has not been made. The regulator announced that it will continue to look into possible wrongdoings and will hold hearings with the company’s shareholders in April. Czech Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek denied the allegations of the Bulgarian authorities that ČEZ broke a number of regulations while operating in the country.
Government bill on bearer bonds passes through lower house
A government bill aimed at regulating the anonymous holding of shares was passed by the Chamber of Deputies on Tuesday evening. Critics say the current widespread use of undocumented bearer bonds in the Czech Republic facilitates corruption. Under the new legislation, firms will have to register shares at a central depositary or lodge them in document form at a bank. However, the opposition Social Democrats say the bill does not go far enough; they plan to amend it when it goes before the Senate, which they dominate.
TOP 09 would come in second in parliamentary elections
TOP 09 would be the second biggest party in the lower house, if parliamentary elections were held today, according to the polling agency STEM. A February poll revealed that TOP 09 had gained the lead on the centre-right with a 14.2% support rating, while its main partner in government, the Civic Democrats, had a mere 11.6%, which is only three tenths of a percentage point ahead of the Communist Party. The Social Democrats, who would win the elections, are supported by 28.2% of respondents.
Government hopes to sign restitution contracts amid criticism
The cabinet has approved the format of contracts on property restitution compensations that will be signed with religious institutions. The Czech government is set to pay out a total of 59 billion crowns over the next 30 years to churches and other religious institutions as compensation for property that was confiscated by the communist regime. Prime Minister Petr Nečas is hoping to sign the contracts before the end of the week. The Social Democratic and the Public Affairs parties have said that the government should wait until the Constitutional Court issues a decision on their suits against the restitution law. One part of the complaint lodged by the Social Democrats claims that the government does not have the right to sign civil contracts concerning government property with legal entities.
Gloomy first months of the year
According to the Czech Hydro-Meteorological Office, the country has experienced an unusually low amount of sunlight so far in 2013. In January, there was a total average of 20 hours of sunlight, which is only 43% of the normal amount for this time of year. Last week, only two hours of visible sunlight were registered, which is around 10% of the normal amount for this time. In December, on the other hand, there was a slightly above-average amount of sunlight.
Police arrest gang of pimps near Prague
The organized crime unit of the Czech Police has arrested eight men from Kladno, for procurement of sexual services, as well as human and drug trafficking. The men would allegedly have 12 to 15 prostitutes offer their services at a rest-area on the D5 freeway near the town of Rudná near Prague, and took the women’s earnings. The police have followed the gang’s activities since the end of 2011. Three of the accused are in custody, while the other five were released on bail awaiting trial.
First bike garage in Europe opens in Hradec Králové
The first European garage designated exclusively for bicycles opened in the center of Hradec Králové. The octagonal multi-story glass structure can house up to 116 bicycles. Bikes are placed in free spots by an automated lift and can be left in the garage for five crowns per day. The investor and creator of the project, Rudolf Bernart, said that he was inspired by a similar garage he saw in Shanghai.
Akropolis puts on play about corruption
The Palác Akropolis performance and musical art space in Prague will launch a new play called ČEZKO FOREVER/A True Story about a corruption scandal involving the energy company ČEZ and Škoda Power. The production, which is supported by millionaire Karel Janeček’s Anti-Corruption Endowment Fund, will premiere on Monday. The play was inspired by a secret recording of deals made by a well-known lobbyist.
Lev Praha head to KHL playoffs
The ice hockey team Lev Praha is the only Czech team among the 16 that have qualified for this year’s Continental Hockey League playoffs. In their first playoff game on Wednesday evening Lev will face one of Russia’s strongest teams, CSKA Moscow, which is in second place in the Western conference.
19.02.2013 Police: Fatal apartment building explosion may have been deliberate
Police say they are leaning toward the view that a fatal explosion at an apartment building in the north Moravian town of Frenštát pod Radhoštěm on Sunday was caused deliberately by a resident. Police chief Martin Červíček said on Tuesday that he believed a serious criminal act had been committed. Another police representative said reports that a 62-year-old man who lived in the basement of the building had barricaded the doors had not been confirmed. The fire is thought to have broken out in different parts of the structure at the same time. At least five people were killed in the blast, including the suspected arsonist and three children. Two survivors are fighting for their lives in hospital.
Agency: Bulgaria to strip CEZ of distribution license on Tuesday
The authorities in Bulgaria are planning to strip the Czech power giant CEZ of its distribution license in the country on Tuesday, Bulgaria’s Focus news agency reported, referring to a statement made by the country’s prime minister, Boyko Borisov, at a news conference in Sofia. People in Bulgaria have been protesting against what they regard as the excessively high prices for electricity charged by CEZ and an Austrian company. An analyst told the news website iHned.cz that a forced exit from Bulgaria could cost CEZ as much as CZK 15 billion.
Nečas calls on Bulgaria to adhere to international commitments and treaties in CEZ dispute
Reacting to developments surrounding CEZ's position in Bulgaria, the Czech prime minister, Petr Nečas, said on Tuesday that he expected that Bulgaria, as an EU member, would adhere to its international commitments and treaties regarding the protection of investments. Mr. Nečas said he believed the dispute over electricity prices had become politicised and said comments made by Bulgarian officials were out of the ordinary. Speaking in Brussels, the Czech minister of industry and trade, Martin Kuba, said the situation was alarming, adding that he was prepared to discuss the matter with the European Commission.
MPs approve sending of Czech soldiers to Mali
The Chamber of Deputies has approved the sending of Czech soldiers to Mali, where they will take part in a European Union mission. If the legislation is passed by the Senate, around 50 Czechs will be sent to the West African state, where as well as training local troops they will guard a base in the capital Bamako. Prime Minister Petr Nečas, who is currently also acting defence minister, said the soldiers’ role would be a non-combat one. The Czech mission is mandated to last for a maximum of 15 months.
Court rejects complaints against election, confirming Zeman victory
The Supreme Administrative Court has confirmed the victory of Miloš Zeman in last month’s presidential vote after on Tuesday rejecting the last of over 100 complaints filed against the election. Several of the challenges related to the presidential campaign, in which claimants said Mr. Zeman had employed untrue, xenophobic and nationalistic arguments. The court said some of the victor’s statements could have been perceived as incorrect, demagogic or even mendacious; however, they were not so serious as to force the abrogation of the election, it said. The unsuccessful claimants can in theory now turn to the Constitutional Court, but such a course would not prevent Mr. Zeman’s inauguration on March 8.
Head of one-time “miracle” collective farm to serve as President Zeman’s agricultural advisor
František Čuba, the 77-year-old former head of a Communist-era agricultural collective, will serve as an advisor on farming issues to President Miloš Zeman when he is installed at Prague Castle, the two men announced after a meeting on Tuesday. Mr. Čuba, who is a member of Mr. Zeman’s Citizens’ Rights Party, is known for heading a collective farm at Slušovice in South Moravia in the 1980s; the farm achieved a “socialist miracle” by branching out into other areas of the economy and generating huge turnover.
Acting head of Supreme Audit Office says president-elect backs him for post
The vice president and current acting head of the Supreme Audit Office, Miloslav Kala, says the incoming head of state Miloš Zeman supports him for the post of president of the agency. Mr. Kala made the comments after a meeting with Mr. Zeman on Tuesday. He is the nominee of the Social Democrats, a party Mr. Zeman previously headed but with which the president-elect today enjoys mixed relations. The Supreme Audit Office has been without a head since the departure of František Dohnal, to whom a court handed a suspended sentence for failing to allow an investigation into the agency’s financing.
Study: Almost 70 percent of Czech households sort waste
Sixty-eight percent of Czech households regularly sort their waste, suggests a study carried out by the STEM/MARK agency. Only 4 percent of respondents said they never sorted their waste, saying they believed that all rubbish ended up in the same place anyway. The mostly commonly sorted items are paper, plastic and glass, with sorting figures of above 90 percent, while only 42 percent of those surveyed said they separated biodegradable waste.
Jazz musician refuses to take part in Klaus tribute concert
The renowned Czech jazz musician and flautist Jiří Stivín has said he will not appear at a special concert for President Václav Klaus that is set to take place on March 3, less than a week before the head of state steps down after a decade in office. Mr. Stivín said he has disagreed with some of the positions adopted by Mr. Klaus recently, including his criticisms of his predecessor, Václav Havel; he said if he appeared at a show “thanking” Václav Klaus it might appear he agreed with his presidency. The president has taken an active interest in a series of concerts entitled Jazz at the Castle since it began at Prague Castle in 2004.
Comedy Babovřesky sets new Czech opening week box-office record
The comedy Babovřesky has set a new Czech box-office record after selling 140,000 tickets in its opening week. The film stars the likes of Lucie Vondráčková and Lucie Bílá and is directed by Zdeněk Troška, who says its huge success is down to the fact it allows viewers to enjoy a laugh and escape from their daily concerns. Critics have received the film coolly. Mr. Troška, who has a string of successful movies to his name, has also directed operas.
18.02.2013 Social Democrats file constitutional complaint against church restitution law
The Social Democrats have filed a constitutional complaint against the law on church restitutions. The complaint is based on the argument that the scope of the restitution, which amounts to 135 billion crowns, is inflated and churches are allegedly set to receive more than was confiscated by the communist regime after 1948. Senator Jeroným Tejc, who filed the complaint in his name on Monday, noted that 7 of the 17 churches and religious groupings who are benefactors under the restitution law did not even exist before the fall of communism in 1989. The law’s critics also warn that the legislation could open the door to claims for property seized by the state before the communists took power in 1948. The restitution law, approved by Parliament late last year, envisages a transfer of land and property to the tune of 75 billion crowns and compensation money for the rest to the tune of 59 billion crowns to be paid by the state over a period of 30 years.
Death toll in Frenštát rises to five
Police are investigating Sunday’s gas explosion in Frenštát pod Radhoštěm as a threat to public safety. The number of victims has risen to five, three of them children between the age of 3 and 8. Eleven people were injured in the explosion that completely demolished a block of flats. Two of the injured remain in critical condition. Emergency crews are still sifting through the debris in search of the last missing person. According to media reports the accident may have been caused by a man who used gas in cylinders to heat his home after having his heating cut off over unpaid bills. The man did not get on with his neighbours and had repeatedly threatened to kill everyone.
ČEZ under fire in Bulgaria
The Bulgarian authorities are looking into the electricity prices charged by Czech and Austrian power distributors following an avalanche of complaints from the public. Energy Minister Delyan Dobrev said that once it had the results of an audit the government would make a final decision on whether there are grounds for revoking their licenses. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets across the country on Sunday to protest against what they call excessive electricity prices set by the Czech power distributor ČEZ and the Austrian energy company EVN. There have even been demands for the country’s distribution network to be nationalized. ČEZ claims that the higher electricity bills in January reflect higher consumption over the Christmas holidays and a colder-than-usual winter. ČEZ recently had its license revoked to operate Albania’s national grid after drawn-out disputes over tariffs and unpaid bills.
Air-quality in Moravia-Silesia slowly improving
There has been an improvement in the quality of air in parts of Moravia and Silesia after the regions’ biggest polluters were ordered to scale-down production. The regulatory measures introduced on Sunday have also placed restrictions on car traffic. The concentration of dust particles in the air still exceeds permitted levels, but is significantly lower that at the weekend when pollution in the worst affected areas was four times higher than norms permit. The authorities have now lifted the restrictions on producers but a smog alert remains in place.
MP Pekarek reports to jail
MP Roman Pekarek has started serving a five-year sentence for corruption. The lower house deputy reported to the Hradec Kralove jailhouse amidst huge media interest on Monday morning. Mr. Pekarek made it clear he considers the verdict unfair and is refusing to give up his mandate until he has exhausted all legal means of fighting his sentence. He says he plans to petition the Supreme Court to review his case. Pekarek was found guilty of accepting a one million crown bribe for selling municipal land to a businessman under price. He is the first deputy to be sentenced to prison during his term in office. The case has led MPs to initiate a bill under which convicted deputies would lose their salary and possibly even be stripped of their mandate in future.
Former MP Petr Wolf still on the run
Former MP Petr Wolf who was sentenced to 6 years in jail for financial fraud is still on the run after failing to report to prison late last year but he is reportedly paying the penalty set by the court. He was last seen in the vicinity of his home around Christmas and the police believe he must have fled the Czech Republic. An Interpol warrant has been issued for his arrest.
Right-wing extremists on trial in Brno
A court case against 18 right-wing extremists opened in Brno on Monday. Some of the accused are members of neo-Nazi bands such as Devils Guard, Imperium or Attack. The others assisted in organizing at least 14 concerts in the years 2008 and 2009 at which they distributed the band’s CDs, leaflets, badges and neo-Nazi memorabilia. If convicted of spreading Nazi ideology members of the group would each face up to eight years in prison. It is one of the biggest court cases against neo-Nazis in the country’s modern history.
PM hands out “third resistance” freedom fighter awards
Prime Minister Petr Nečas on Monday decorated 18 freedom fighters against communism, members of the so-called “third resistance”. Among them are Josef Čech, who spent 15 years in jail for secretly helping political prisoners in the Jáchymov uranium mine in the hardline 1950s, Charter 77 signatory and human rights activist Dana Němcová and protest singer and songwriter Jaroslav Hutka. Several people were awarded posthumously. A law on the so-called Third Resistance came into force in late 2011 opening the way for proper recognition of those who actively fought the communist regime. Those who are recognized as having been part of the active opposition are entitled to one-off payments and top-ups to their pensions.
President-elect promuises to fill constitutional court vacancies with all possible speed
President-elect Milos Zeman said on Monday that he would do his best to consolidate the Czech constitutional court by filling its vacancies with all possible speed. He said he intended to propose four candidates for constitutional court judges shortly after his inauguration in March and another four in June. The term of seven judges of the 15-member court will expire this year. The court lacks three judges even now and further vacancies would present a serious problem. Moreover the mandate of the court’s chairman Pavel Rychetsky is due to expire in the summer. Mr. Zeman said he would propose his reappointment to the post. Candidates for constitutional judges are nominated by the president and confirmed or rejected by the Senate.
Runaway steamboat may not have been accident
The Prague Steamboat Company is considering filing a criminal complaint in connection with Sunday’s accident on the Vltava River. One of the company’s steamboats, which is currently used for advertising purposes, came loose from its mooring and was borne downstream crashing into one of the pillars of Prague’s Palacký bridge. The company says this could not have been an accident since the boat was anchored and moored by seven steel ropes. Company head Dušan Sahula says the runaway boat’s trajectory suggests someone pushed it away from the embankment.
17.02.2013 Gas explosion kills two, injures dozen people
At least two people were killed and a dozen injured in a gas explosion that demolished a block of flats in Frenštát pod Radhoštěm in the early hours of Sunday. The blast completely wrecked the inside of the building and firemen had to tear down two walls before they could start sifting through the debris for survivors. Several people are still unaccounted for, including two children. Police are trying to ascertain who was in the building at the time of the blast and the local authorities have established a crisis help line for relatives. It is not yet clear what caused the explosion.
Protests against ČEZ in Bulgaria
Massive street protests continued for a second weekend in Bulgaria where people are demonstrating against what they call excessive electricity prices set by the Czech power distributor ČEZ and the Austrian energy company EVN. Over 3,000 demonstrators stopped traffic in the Bulgarian capital Sofia on Sunday chanting “out with the mafia” and demanding that the country’s distribution network be nationalized. ČEZ claims that the higher electricity bills in January reflect higher consumption over the Christmas holidays and a colder-than-usual winter. ČEZ recently had its license revoked to operate Albania’s national grid after drawn-out disputes over tariffs and unpaid bills.
Runaway boat smashes into Palacký bridge
A runaway 60-metre-long steamboat crashed into one of the pillars of Palacký bridge on Sunday morning. No one was reported hurt in the accident and the bridge is reported to be undamaged. It appears that the boat was poorly moored and came loose several hundred meters upstream. The accident is being investigated.
Biggest industrial polluters ordered to scale-down production
Regulatory measures are in place in many parts of Moravia and Silesia after air-pollution levels exceeded permitted levels more than three-fold at all monitoring stations in the region for three consecutive days. The situation is reported to be worst in Ostrava and Zlín where the concentration of dust particles in the air was four times higher than normal. The region’s biggest industrial polluters have been ordered to scale-down production and car transport has been restricted in most city centers. Children, chronically ill people and seniors have been advised to stay indoors as much as possible.
ERO audit to be published by end of February
The head of the Energy Regulatory Office, Alena Vitásková, who last week accused her predecessors of having illegally upped the prices of electricity from solar plants, said the audit on which she based her claim would be made public by the end of February. The ERO claims to have found serious irregularities in the purchase prices for solar power in the 2005–2011 period, which incurred damages to the tune of tens of billions of crowns. Meanwhile, the head of the Czech Photovoltaic Industry Association says that the audit on which Ms Vitáskova based her accusations was doctored and was intended to cover up the organization’s present failings.
Danish students leave under heightened police scrutiny
Several busloads of Danish students who spent their spring school-break in Prague this week left the capital under heightened police scrutiny over the weekend. The Danish visitors made headlines with several incidents of alcohol-fuelled violence in hotel rooms and the streets of Prague. One student was stabbed in his hotel room and two others were detained after assaulting officers in a brawl started by a group of 15 Danish students on Wenceslas Square. The Danish Embassy has apologized for the incidents. Two busses which were to have taken the students back failed to arrive for fear of problems and replacement busses had to be found. Another 6,000 Danish students are due to arrive in the Czech capital next week.
Digitalization threatening many small-town cinema houses
Many small-town cinema houses in the Czech Republic may have to close down this year because they lack the finances to go digital. Only 36 percent of Czech cinemas have met this requirement so far, with 155 cinema houses of an overall 426 having started digital projection. The country’s 27 multiplexes all meet the required standard. The Czech Republic currently has the densest network of cinema houses in Europe.
16.02.2013 Vit Barta elected Public Affairs leader
The Public Affairs Party has overwhelmingly elected Vit Barta its new leader. Mr. Barta, a former businessman who set up the party in 2001 and who was long considered its de-facto leader, was elected on the strength of 80 out of 98 votes. He said he was ready to take up the party banner with dedication and humility and to fulfill those goals which Public Affairs had failed to meet during its time in government. The party walked out of the ruling coalition last spring following a corruption scandal involving Mr. Barta and ideological differences with its coalition partners. Its intention was to bring down the centre-right government but a small faction around Deputy Prime Minister Karolina Peake rebelled and stayed on under a different name.
Radek John elected honorary chairman of Public Affairs
Public Affairs outgoing leader Radek John, who did not run for re-election or aspire for a deputy post, was elected honorary chairman, getting a standing ovation from the assembly. Mr. John, a former investigative journalist whose popularity helped the party win seats in Parliament in the 2010 general elections, is returning to his former profession. In a closing address, Mr. John said the battle against corruption in the top echelons of power had proven harder than expected and advocated a radical change of the political system under which MPs, governors and mayors would be elected directly and would be re-callable.
Vehicle registration system faces new hurdle
The national vehicle registration system which was put into operation last summer and has repeatedly been criticized for malfunction, is facing another serious hurdle: the contract with its current operator is due to expire at the end of March and the Transport Ministry reportedly omitted to call a public tender for a new operator. According to the internet news site idnes.cz an operator will now have to be found within 30 days, moreover without a tender. Even after more than six months in operation the new vehicle registration system is said to be slower and less reliable than the one it replaced. The transport minister resigned in connection with the problems late last year.
Doctors warn against buying medicine over the Internet
Doctors have issued public warnings regarding the danger of buying medicines over the Internet. According to Czech Public Television some people are now using internet sites to acquire antibiotics, anti-depressants and even hormone therapy which are otherwise only available on prescription. Doctors warn that self-treatment with these medicines may be life-threatening. Many do not contain the substance stated on the packaging and some are past their expiry date.
German shops close to the Czech border accommodate Czech customers
German shops close to the Czech border are increasingly employing Czech-speaking staff to accommodate a growing Czech clientele, the internet news site idnes reported. The daily visited the town of Heidenau, Lower Saxony, where approximately 10 percent of the local clientele are Czechs from across the border. According to local businesses employing some Czech-speaking staff pays off. Their Czech clients spend on average 200 euro per visit and most come every weekend. Many shops in the border region now print leaflets in Czech as well as in German.
Air-pollution continues to plague Moravia-Silesia
Air pollution is reported to have worsened severely in parts of Moravia and Silesia with the concentration of dust particles in the air far exceeding permitted norms at all 15 monitoring stations. According to data from the Czech Hydro-meteorological Institute the concentration of harmful substances in the air is more than four times the permitted norm in the Ostrava and Zlin regions. The authorities have advised elderly people and children to stay indoors as much as possible. The situation is being closely monitored by city hall which has the right to call a smog alert and ask industrial plants to scale-down production.
Fresh snow and icy roads complicating traffic
Fresh snow and icy roads are complicating traffic around the country. Police report a heightened number of accidents in Prague and traffic is reported to be slow and difficult along the country’s main highways. Many roads in the mountain regions are impassible without winter chains and heavy snow contributes to poor visibility. Drivers have been asked to exercise extreme caution.
15.02.2013 Doctors’ protest against reform to be held on March 1
Doctors’ unions have called on hospital physicians to join a protest against the government’s health-care reform which is to be held on March 1, the unions’ chair Martin Engel said on Friday. The unions asked doctors to take care of their own health on that day, and to inform patients of the risks related to the reform. Only emergency cases should be treated during the protest. The Czech government has implemented a broad reform of the health care system including changes to the structure of hospitals and cuts to their budgets. Doctors also complain the Health Ministry has failed to raise their salaries as promised two years ago.
One third of Czechs happy with health care: poll
In related news, some 32 percent of Czechs are happy with their health care, according to a new survey by the CVVM institute released on Friday. Another 33 percent of those polled said they were dissatisfied with the health care system. Most people – around 80 percent – consider financing of public health care the biggest problem while 67 percent said they did not approve of the functioning of health insurance companies. Some two thirds of people who took part in the survey also saw problems in the management of drugs.
Lower house backs bill stripping convicted MPs of mandate
The lower house of Parliament on Friday backed a constitutional amendment that would strip MPs convicted to serve prison terms of their mandate. The convicted deputies would also lose their salaries and other benefits. The draft legislation was admitted for further debate in the house; if eventually approved by MPs and Senators, it should come into force during the next parliament. The amendment, tabled by the lower house speaker Miroslava Němcová of the Civic Demoracts, comes in reaction to the case of her former party colleague, MP Roman Pekárek, who is to serve five years in prison for corruption but has refused to give up his mandate. Another MP, former Social Democrat David Rath, has been held in custody since last May also on corruption charges.
President signs medical marihuana bill into law
Czech President Václav Klaus on Friday signed into law a bill on medical marihuana which will be made available to patients later this year. The legislation allows patients with cancer, multiple sclerosis, atopic dermatitis and other disease to obtain marihuana on electronic prescription which will be under tightened supervision. One gram of the drug should be available in pharmacies at a price ranging between 80 and 200 crowns, or 4 and 10 US dollars. Medical marihuana will be imported; next year, the authorities are planning to issue licences to Czech companies to grow cannabis plants as well.
Culture minister to remain in office
Czech Minister of Culture Alena Hanáková, of the TOP 09 party, is set to remain in office. Speculations of her demise emerged after TOP 09 leader Karel Schwarzenberg reportedly offered the job to a former rector of Prague’s Academy of Fine Arts earlier this week. However, Mr Schwarzenberg met with Minister Hanáková on Friday and said he had no objections to her remaining in the post.
Thousands of young Danes visit Prague
Another 6,000 Danish students are expected to visit Prague next week, the news agency ČTK reported quoting sources from the Danish embassy. The Czech capital has become a popular destination for young Danes; this week, an estimated 10,000 of them arrived in Prague for two- or three-day stays. Their visits coincide with the winter school holidays in their country. Danish students come on cheap package tours, and have caused number of incidents mainly fuelled by alcohol. Prague police register around 10 such incidents each day; on Wednesday, a group of Danish students demolished several hotel rooms in the capital.
Flu epidemic in decline
An epidemic of flu that has hit the Czech Republic in recent weeks is in decline, the country’s chief hygiene officer, Vladimír Valenta, said on Friday. The number of cases of acute respiratory infections has registered an 11.6 percent decrease this week, while the number of flu cases dropped by over 22 percent. Mr Valenta however warned the flu epidemic was not over yet as more flu-related deaths are being registered across the country. In total, 85 people have died of flu-related causes this season.
Czech Republic’s oldest citizen celebrates 109th birthday
The Czech Republic’s oldest inhabitant, Evangelia Čarosová, celebrates her 109th birthday on Friday. Ms Čarosová, who lives in a village outside the north-eastern town of Bruntál, was born in Greece and moved to Czechoslovakia to escape the civil war that broke out in the 1940s. The illiterate woman, who has lived in her village since 1950, reportedly understands Czech but only speaks Greek.
Czech photographer wins World Press Photo sports category
Czech news agency ČTK’s photographer Roman Vondrouš has won the category of Sports actions – stories of the international World Press Photo contest. Mr Vondrouš won with a series of photos from the Velká Parubická steeplechase; the black-and-white shots depict the background of the famous cross-country run. Mr Vondrouš said the award was his greatest achievement so far.
Plzeň pull off huge upset against Napoli while Sparta lose to Chelsea
Viktoria Plzeň pulled off a huge upset on Thursday night when they beat the Italian side Napoli 3:0 away in the first leg of their Europa League first knockout stage tie. Plzeň’s goals came from Vladimír Darida, František Rajtoral and Stanislav Tecl. Sparta Prague, meanwhile, lost 1:0 in the Czech capital to Chelsea, who took all three points thanks to a late strike from the Brazilian Oscar.
14.02.2013 Culture minister under fire
There is mounting speculation regarding the possible dismissal of Culture Minister Alena Hanáková who has come under fire for incompetence. The ruling TOP 09 party which appointed her to the post on Thursday met to discuss the situation. The party has come under pressure from its coalition partners who clearly consider Ms. Hanáková a weak link in the cabinet. The culture minister says no one has approached her on the matter but according to well-informed sources cited by Czech Television her party has already approached the head of the Prague Music Academy Ivo Mathe with an offer for him to take over the ministry of culture.
Czech artists protest against lower subsidies
Czech artists are staging a protest outside the culture ministry over dwindling subsidies for live art. The ministry slashed this year’s budget for live art by 100 million crowns to 280 million, sparking protests both from artists and the art committees which hand out grants. Critics say that the ministry’s policy is devastating this field of culture. Subsidies for it have dropped by 57 percent since 2007. Culture Minister Alena Hanáková has promised to try to find additional funds, but points out that the ministry is restricted by a significantly lower budget due to the government’s fiscal consolidation drive.
Czech-German officials address cross-border drug smuggling
The Czech and German interior ministers met in Prague on Thursday to discuss means of curbing drug-smuggling across the common border. Bavaria and Saxony report a steep rise in drug trafficking from the neighbouring Czech Republic. The authorities say the problem concerns mainly the home-made drug pervitin, known in Germany as Crystal, and cheap marihuana, smuggled across the border both by Czechs and German tourists. There have even been cases of German dealers paying Czechs to come and make the drug pervitin in Germany. The two sides have agreed to intensify cooperation between customs officials, police and the judiciary.
Czech economy remains in recession
The Czech economy contracted by 1.1 percent year-on-year in 2012 and gross domestic product in the fourth quarter dropped by 1.7 percent in annual terms and by 0.2 percent compared to the previous quarter, according to data released by the Czech Statistical Office on Thursday. Higher taxes on consumer goods contributed negatively to the GDP drop, their annual decrease at almost 2 percent, the office said. The GDP figure is in line with analysts´ expectations. The Czech economy has been in recession since the end of 2011.
State attorneys not to deal with presidential amnesty
The Prague 1 state attorneys’ office says it will not deal with criminal complaints regarding the presidential amnesty. A spokesman for the office said on Thursday that according to the constitution the president had acted fully within his powers in declaring the amnesty and neither state attorneys nor the police were in a position to challenge the decision. The broad amnesty declared by President Vaclav Klaus on January 1st, has resulted in the release of over 6,400 prisoners and may pertain to a number of high-profile corruption and embezzlement cases.
Becherovka reports heavy losses in wake of methanol deaths
The maker of the famous herbal liquor Becherovka reports losses to the tune of 100 million crowns as a result of the enforced prohibition last year. The Jan Becher-Karlovarska Becherovka company said sales were down by 12 percent year-on-year. The losses were caused not only on the government enforced ban on spirits, which lasted for two weeks, but by lower exports due to the methanol scare. Close to 40 people died of methanol poisoning in the Czech Republic last year after consuming dangerous bootleg alcohol. Liquor sales dropped by an average 10 percent as a result and have not yet fully returned to their previous levels. According to the head of the Union of Spirits Producers Petr Pavlík, 2012 was the worst year for Czech spirits producers since 1990.
Danish tourists take Prague by storm
Two Danish students were detained after assaulting police officers in a brawl in the centre of Prague on Wednesday night. A group of 15 Danish nationals, who had been out drinking got into a fight in the city centre and the police was called to restore order. It is the third case of violence involving Danish tourists this week. A Danish national was stabbed in a hotel where his compatriots demolished several hotel rooms in a wild party on Tuesday and later that night a Danish student smashed a shop window with a garbage can. The Danish Embassy has expressed regret over the incidents.
Police investigating murder of four-year-old charge mother
Police investigating the brutal murder of a four-year-old girl in the town of Ceska Lipa have charged her mother. The child, who was alone in the house with her mother at the time of the incident, died of stab wounds to her throat and the mother was found in critical condition with slit wrists. According to media reports she may have been on drugs at the time of the tragedy. If convicted of murder she could face a jail sentence of 15 to 20 years.
Heavy snow closes Lanzhot border crossing to trucks
The Lanzhot border crossing on the Czech-Slovak border was closed to trucks on Thursday morning due to heavy snow in Slovakia and Hungary. Police said the decision was made in coordination with the Slovak authorities who reported severe traffic problems along the D2 highway. Trucks are reported to be blocking many roads and parking lots are bursting at the seams due to severe transport problems in Hungary. By the time the border crossing re-opened at 1pm there was a 4 km long line of trucks waiting to cross the border.
Smog alert in Moravia
The Hydro-meteorological Institute has called a smog alert in Moravia, the eastern part of the Czech Republic where air pollution is a chronic problem in the winter months. Dust particles in the air on Thursday exceeded permitted levels at all monitoring stations in the region. The air pollution is reported to be worst in Trinec, Frydek-Mistek and Karvina. The local authorities have asked drivers to restrict their movement in cities to a minimum and use public transport wherever possible. The fact that many people in the region use coal heating is further complicating the situation. Children and elderly people as well as chronically ill patients have been advised to stay indoors.