A record low turnout has accompanied this weekend's second round of the Senate by-election in Brno. Just over 10 percent turned out to vote in the final round, electing Karel Jarusek, a member of the main opposition Civic Democrats, as the city's new senator. In the end Mr Jarusek won by just 21 votes. Saturday's turnout was the lowest ever in any election to the Senate, which suffers from a lack of public trust.
Police have arrested two Slovak men as they attempted to sell a large amount of radioactive material in a Brno hotel. The two, from the Slovak town of Presov, were detained in a sting operation at Brno's Voronez hotel while trying to sell three kilograms of the material, which has not yet been identified. The National Institute for Nuclear Safety says it was the largest seizure of radioactive material anywhere in the world for the last nine months. The head of the Institute, Dana Drabova, said it was almost certain that the material could not have been used for the production of nuclear weapons. She said the material was most probably low-grade uranium smuggled from the former Soviet bloc.
The country's chief state prosecutor Marie Benesova has ruled that former communist functionaries Milous Jakes and Jozef Lenart will no longer be tried for their roles during the Soviet-led invasion of 1968. Both men had been tried on charges of treason for allegedly trying to legalise the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw pact troops on August 21st, 1968. Mrs Benesova's decision upholds an appeals court ruling from June that found neither man guilty as charged. Had she questioned the court's decision the Supreme Court would have been petitioned and the trials could have continued.
After police found a bugging device in the car of Social Democrat MP Josef Hojdar on Monday, Mr Hojdar called on Prime Minister Spidla and the ministers of the interior, justice and defence to look into the matter. The Czech counter-intelligence service, the BIS, has meanwhile denied playing any role in the matter. Mr Hojdar made the headlines earlier this year when he temporarily left the governing Social Democrats' group in the Chamber of Deputies, threatening the government's majority. Claims the MP made in the summer that he had been bugged and followed were not proven.
A Czech court has given two Czech men and one Swedish national sentences ranging from several months to several years in prison for the production and distribution of child pornography. 43-year-old Pavel Rohel, the head of a modelling agency in the town of Nachod in east Bohemia, received three years in prison, while his 35-year-old employee Jaroslav Hampl received ten months. The Swedish citizen, John Axel Victorin received the highest sentence of three-and-a-half years. The three were found guilty of corrupting the morals of children and youth and sexually abusing models, though Mr Victorin denied any wrong-doing. All three men have appealed the verdict.
The Czech cabinet has unanimously approved a defence ministry plan outlining key reforms that will see the army streamlined to just 30, 000 professional soldiers, while compulsory military service will be abolished by the end of 2004. With the Czech Republic a member of NATO the army will also focus on several specialisations in the future, including the fight against weapons of mass destruction, the military health care sector, and passive surveillance. In other areas the Czech military will have to rely on support from allied forces. The reforms also propose that in the near future the army will abandon unneeded bases in certain Czech towns, a move that has been criticised by local municipal councils. But, the government has previously agreed that it will compensate those towns from a total sum of 350 million crowns.
Both Interior Minister Stanislav Gross and Defence Minister Miroslav Kostelka have already appeared before the parliamentary commission to explain that neither the police nor military secret intelligence played any role in the bugging of MP Jaroslav Hojdar's car. Late Wednesday both men confirmed that the type of bugging device that had been found was not used by either service.
Cabinet spokeswoman Anna Veverkova has revealed that the government has approved financial assistance of 3.4 billion crowns to help district officials cover heavy debts by district hospitals. Regional governors will receive 2.7 billion crowns by the end of the year, while the remaining 700 million will arrive in 2004. The financial boost should help solve the current financial crisis in the health-care sector. Presently, the government is seeking ways to ensure that similar problems are not repeated in the future: a general plan for health-care reform should be submitted to the cabinet by Health Minister Marie Souckova, by the end of January.
Spokeswoman Anna Veverkova has revealed that the Czech cabinet has
swept aside an opposition proposal calling for compensation for victims
Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. The proposal, put forward by the opposition Civic Democrats, will still, however, be debated in parliament. The Civic Democrats would like to see those who suffered under the occupation, which effectively lasted from 1968 till 1991, receive remuneration as high as millions of crowns, especially in cases where a family member was wounded, raped, or killed. To this day the complete number of victims who suffered or were killed under the occupation remains unknown.
Meanwhile, Jan Klas, the chairman of a watchdog commission overseeing the counter-intelligence service, the BIS, has responded to the Hojdar case by saying Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla bore responsibility for recent problems related to bugging and wiretapping in the Czech Republic. Speaking to the Czech news agency CTK Mr Klas said that the prime minister had helped create an atmosphere in which it was "not possible to trust anyone", pointing out that Mr Spidla regularly visited BIS offices to check wiretap reports. The Social Democrats' deputies group has called for an inquiry into the Hojdar case by Mr Klas' commission, the prime minister and ministers of interior, justice and defence, as well as the lower house's commission for military counter-intelligence service and police wiretapping supervision. Mr Klas, however, opposes the involvement of parliamentary bodies, saying they would "divert the problem from relevant institutions".