Former health minister Marie Souckova has resigned her position as vice-chairperson of the Social Democrats and left the party. She reportedly was offended by public statements of fellow party members relating to a controversial contract she brokered during her tenure at the ministry, which she left in April 2004. Souckova appointed the lawyer Zdenek Novacek to represent the state in a compensation case launched by the blood plasma company Diag Human. Novacek was to be paid 10 million crowns for taking the case and a further 170 million crowns if he won. Diag Human was seeking 360 million crowns in arbitration.
About 50 people turned out on Saturday to honour the memory of Jan Palach, a student who burnt himself to death 36 years ago in protest against the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia. Palach, a student at Charles University, set himself on fire in Prague's Wenceslas Square on January 16, 1969. He died of the burns a few days later. Palach was only 20 years old. His funeral at the Oslanske cemetery became a huge manifestation in support of freedom and democracy.
An 80-year-old woman was robbed in her home near the famous spa town of Karlovy Vary by three women who had gained entry into the disabled woman's apartment by posing as employees of the postal service. They pensioner was robbed at knifepoint of 500 crowns. In recent years, pensioners living alone have been regularly targeted for robbery and been victims of fraud.
The number of Czechs to make made donations via mobile text messages to help the survivors of the Southeast Asian tsunami passed the 1 million mark on Saturday. The donations were made through the Donors Message Service, a charitable text-message system established last year in which all three mobile operators in the Czech Republic participate. The general public has donated well over 200 million crowns in total.
The government has requested that Liberia extradite Czech national Dalibor Kopp, who is wanted on charges of illegal arms trading. Kopp, who fled the Czech Republic in December to avoid prosecution, was arrested last week by United Nations peacekeeping forces stationed in Libya. He is accused of knowingly selling arms to Iraq despite an arms embargo and trying to cover his trail by first exporting the arms to Yemen. If found guilty, he faces up to 10 years in prison.
The government is planning to reduce mortgage support for people with higher incomes. Local Development Minister Jiri Paroubek told journalists on Friday that tax deductibles on mortgage loans would not be abolished, as previously planned, but just reduced. Currently people can deduct up to 300, 000 crowns annually from their tax base, a level of state support that Paroubek considers to be "overly generous". The planned changes should come into effect as of January 2006. In mid 2003, Czechs had 117 thousand mortgage loans to the tune of 128 billion crowns.
Two Czech drug dealers who were sentenced to 50 years in prison in Thailand for smuggling heroin, now hope to be released on the grounds of an amnesty declared there last year. The two men each spent several years in a Thai prison before being transferred to a Czech prison last year. One of the men is reported to be in seriously bad health.
Prague mayor Pavel Bem was ripped off by a taxi driver who failed to recognize him in a tourist disguise. The Mlada Fronta Dnes daily, which has been waging a campaign against dishonest Prague taxi drivers, persuaded the mayor to dye his hair black, slick it back and put on a pair of expensive sunglasses, before jumping into the nearest city taxi. Asking for a short ride in Prague's city centre the mayor found himself in a taxi with a rigged meter and was subsequently charged six times the normal rate. The driver faces a steep fine and in the event of re-offending he could lose his permit.
The Ostrava state attorney on Friday released from custody four former managers of the bankrupt Union Banka. They have been charged with breach of trust in property administration and granting disadvantageous loans, which stripped the bank of three billion crowns. The state attorney said that the three months custody period had expired and there was no longer reason to fear that they would try to influence witnesses. According to investigators, the bank managers granted risky loans to their friends in the period between 1999 and 2003. If convicted, they face a sentence of up to eight years in prison.
A Czech wanted for illegal arms trade has been arrested in Liberia. Dalibor Kopp who was charged with illegal export of ammunition to Iraq was detained by UN peacekeeping forces on the basis of an international arrest warrant this week and was brought to a court in Liberia on Wednesday. Kopp fled the Czech Republic at the end of December to avoid prosecution. In 1995 he held talks with Arab traders on the export of ammunition to the Middle East. To cover up the deal, the ammunition was bought by a company in Yemen which subsequently sold it to Iraq.
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