The leader of the so-called Berdych Gang, David Berdych, has received a five-year prison term for counterfeiting banknotes. He already faced five years in jail for blackmail. Around three dozen other members of the alleged criminal gang have also been appearing in court on charges of kidnapping, robbery and murder. Several police officers have also been implicated in the case.
Senators have also approved a tougher conflict of interest bill which would tighten control over property belonging to politicians and other officials in the public sector such as the police force and the judiciary. Any income or gifts over the sum of 4,000 US dollars would have to be declared. Any violation of the law could result in a fine of up to 20,000 US dollars. The bill must be signed into law by the president.
There were 90 newly recorded cases of HIV infection in the Czech Republic in 2005, a new record. The total number who were HIV positive at the end of last year was 827, 650 men and 177 women. The head of a centre for victims of the disease, Miroslav Hlavaty, said on Thursday that figures for the first two months of this year indicate a further increase is possible in 2006. Almost 200 people in the Czech Republic have contracted AIDS, of whom 118 have died.
The Senate has approved a bill under which foreigners could be granted permanent residence in the Czech Republic after only five years, as opposed to the present ten. The bill concerns some 38,000 foreigners living in the Czech Republic and is seen as a fundamental breakthrough. It is yet to be signed by President Vaclav Klaus.
Czech tennis player Tomas Berdych has been knocked out in the quarter-finals of the Indian Wells Masters Series. The 20-year-old was beaten 6-4 6-1 by Australian Open finalist Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus. Last year Berdych caused an upset by winning the Paris Masters, the biggest Czech success in tennis in some years.
Around 50 people demonstrated outside the Cuban embassy in Prague on Thursday demanding the release of political prisoners on the island. The protest was held on the third anniversary of the 2003 brutal crack down on Cuban dissidents when 75 members of the opposition were thrown into jail. The protesters in Prague read an open letter asking the Cuban regime to release its political prisoners many of whom are in seriously bad health. The Cuban embassy's doors remained closed.
Train drivers went on a half hour token strike on Thursday in protest of proposed changes in the labour code. The association's chairman Petr Cechak said 90 percent of train drivers on duty at midday had joined the strike, but Czech Railways said there had been almost no disruption of rail transport as a result. Only five percent of the days train connections were allegedly affected by the strike, with a maximum 15 minute delay.
Meanwhile, the police have interviewed the prime minister as a witness in a case involving the embezzlement of European Union subsidies in which ten people, including two former state officials, have been prosecuted. While he was local development minister Mr Paroubek ordered an analysis of some property transactions that took place at the ministry before his appointment. The current local development minister used that study as the basis of a criminal complaint filed last year.
The Czech rail system will grind to a halt for half an hour on Thursday; the Federation of Train Drivers is calling a strike between noon and 12:30 in protest against a new labour code. The high-speed Pendolino will be the only train running during the strike; rail workers will read a statement detailing their grievances to its passengers.
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