The biggest trial involving an alleged criminal gang ever held in the Czech Republic got underway on Wednesday. Fifty-one members of the alleged gang, led by David Berdych, are due to appear before the Central Bohemian Regional Court on charges of murder, robbery, kidnapping and extortion relating to crimes committed between 1996 and 2002. Prosecutors say there are links between gang members and elite anti-organised crime detectives. The Berdych gang are said to have used police uniforms and arms as well as false documents.
International football goalkeeper Petr Cech is set to become the best paid Czech sports person of all time, after signing a contract extension that will keep him at English club Chelsea until 2010. Agency reports suggest Cech, who is 23, could make over 10 million dollars a year. He has set a number of Premier League goalkeeping records since moving to Chelsea in the summer of 2004, and was recently voted best goalkeeper in the world.
The Czech Foreign Ministry has described as incomplete and unsatisfactory Cuba's explanation of why two Czech women were arrested on the island. The ministry issued the statement after a meeting on Wednesday between Cuba's charge d'affaires in Prague and Czech officials. Former miss Czech Republic Helena Houdova and psychologist Mariana Kroftova were held for 11 hours last week after being arrested while taking photographs in a poor district of Havana.
The prime minister, Jiri Paroubek, has come under fire for appearing in a pre-election stage show in which the host told apparently racist jokes. Daily Mlada fronta Dnes said on Wednesday that the host of the "Premiere with the Premier" show, Jiri Krampol, had told jokes suggesting Romanies avoided work and committed petty crimes. Mr Paroubek has rejected the newspaper's allegations, saying he is no way racist. For his part Mr Krampol, an actor, says if jokes can be made about blondes or doctors, they can equally be made about Romanies.
The Ombudsman's office has criticized the police for excessive use of force in breaking up the rave party Czech Tek in July of 2005. The Ombudsman launched an independent investigation into the affair following widespread criticism of the crack-down against several thousand youngsters whose rave party had spilled over onto private property. The Ombudsman Otakar Motejl said his findings suggested that the police had not used up all possible options of dealing with the situation before applying force.
A third Czech victim has been identified in Katowice, one of 64 people who were killed when the roof of an exhibition hall caved in last Saturday. 170 people were injured in the accident, among them several Czechs. A team of experts has been trying to ascertain whether the roof collapsed under the weight of tons of snow or whether a flaw in construction was to blame. The Polish government has accused the building's owners of flouting safety regulations as survivors told of how they broke down locked emergency exists in their frantic flight to safety.
Czech model Helena Houdova who was imprisoned in Cuba last week told journalists she had managed to smuggle out photographs taken on the island. Houdova was arrested along with another model, as they were taking pictures of children in slums. The two women spent 11 hours in police custody. Houdova, who is heavily involved in charity, says her intention was to portray the dark side of Cuba as an island of poverty and political oppression. Although their cameras were confiscated Houdova says she managed to conceal a memory card inside her bra. The pictures are to be displayed at an exhibition organized with the help of the humanitarian aid organization People in Need.
Politicians have reached consensus on the date of this year's general elections which will take place on June 2nd and 3rd. The Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek on Tuesday countersigned a proposal put to him by President Vaclav Klaus. In line with the decision, political parties will have to present their list of candidates by the end of March. They will run for posts in the 200 seat lower house of Parliament. The last election was held in 2002.
The European Union's tax rules were said to be in chaos on Tuesday as Poland held out against a VAT compromise backed by all other countries, potentially triggering EU action against member states that still impose lower rates. Karl-Heinz Grasser, finance minister of Austria which holds the rotating EU presidency, said the 25-member bloc was in a "very serious situation", but a solution was still possible. The other 24 EU countries back a proposal by Vienna to extend by five years an arrangement which expired last year and allowed VAT on selected services in nine member states to be kept below the minimum rate of 15 percent. The Czech Republic and Cyprus dropped objections at the weekend but Poland's new conservative government remains opposed to the deal.
A parliamentary commission looking into the privatization of the petrochemicals firm Unipetrol has concluded that the sale was above-board and that the company was not sold under-price. The parliamentary commission's verdict clears the ruling Social Democrats, who were suspected of having taken bribes and selling Unipetrol to PKN Orlen of Poland under highly unfavourable conditions. The opposition Civic Democrats who called for the probe, have rejected its conclusion. The commission was made up of representatives of all parties represented in Parliament.
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