Five people died on Czech roads on Easter Monday, the highest number of casualties in five years. The police were called to 286 accidents on Monday alone, most of them caused by speeding or drink driving. Altogether 10 people were killed in car accidents over the long Easter weekend. The police were out in force because caroling on Easter weekend involves shots of brandy for grown ups making the rounds and people driving to their country cottages and back for the three-day break. The high number of casualties over Easter came as an unpleasant surprise, since a tougher road law introduced last year was showing positive results.
A new round of screening at the Czech Interior Ministry has uncovered 150 collaborators with the former communist secret police, according to the weekly Respekt. The weekly claims that one in twelve employees of the Interior Ministry got a positive screening certificate and a number of them allegedly hold important posts. Interior minister Ivan Langer, who ordered the new round of screening, refused to confirm the outcome or disclose any names. He told the weekly that he had not launched a witch-hunt at the ministry, but had merely taken steps to ascertain the true state of affairs. Although all employees in public service are required to produce a negative screening certificate, some officers in high posts have been known to slip through the net. It came to light in February that the head of the Czech branch of Interpol Pavol Michal, had tricked the screening system by giving the Czech version of his Slovak first name.
Unemployment in the Czech Republic fell to 7.3 percent in March from 7.7 in February, the Labour Ministry reported on Tuesday. The March unemployment figure is the lowest since the beginning of 2004. Strong economic growth and the mild winter are believed to be the main factors responsible. European statistics published by Eurostat suggest that the Czech Republic is relatively successful in keeping down unemployment. The so called "harmonized unemployment rate" for February was 6.9 in the Czech Republic, as compared to 12.8 in Poland, 11.6 in Slovakia, 8.5 in Hungary and 7.8 percent in Germany.
President Vaclav Klaus said on Tuesday that the situation around Jiri Cunek was becoming untenable and must be resolved in one way or another. "Either Mr. Cunek is guilty and must leave the Cabinet or the police have made a grave error and must accept responsibility for it," the president said on a visit to Hradec Kralove. President Klaus said that above all the crisis must not be allowed to blow over. He said that if it came to light that the deputy prime minister had been accused unjustly police heads should roll. Mr. Cunek is accused of having accepted a half a million crown bribe while he was still mayor of Vsetin five years ago. He insists that he is innocent of any wrongdoing.
The opposition Social Democratic Party has slammed the health minister's plan to introduce health care fees for patients as of 2008, calling it anti-social and saying that it would make health care inaccessible to hundreds of thousands of elderly people. The plan envisages a 30 crown payment for every visit to one's GP, dentist or specialist, another 30 per each item on prescription, 60 crowns per day in hospital and 90 crowns for emergency care. Shadow health minister David Rath said on Tuesday that the plan goes beyond his darkest expectations of what the Civic Democrats would do in the health sector. He said chronic patients and elderly people would be especially hard hit and many would not be able to afford the medical care they need. The health minister said he hoped the plan would prevent what he called "unnecessary health care" and stop Czechs squandering medicine.
The 2007 Frantisek Kriegel Award for civic courage has gone to Ondrej Cakl for his work in monitoring right-wing extremism in the Czech Republic. Ondrej Cakl who works for the Tolerance and Civic Society organization based in Prague has monitored right wing extremism in the country since the 1990s at the risk of his own safety. His work has won the respect of the media and experts on political extremism. The Frantisek Kriegel Award, established in Stockholm, is presented annually by the Charter 77 Foundation. The award bears the name of Charter 77 signatory Frantisek Kriegel, who was the only Czechoslovak political leader who refused to sign Moscow's humiliating dictate after the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia in August of 1968.
The Christian Democrat leadership is to meet on Tuesday to discuss the situation around its embattled leader and Deputy Prime Minister Jiri Cunek. Mr. Cunek is accused of corruption and has come under fire for offensive remarks made about the Roma minority. There has been growing pressure on him to resign and his coalition partners have made it clear they would prefer for the decision to come from Mr. Cunek himself or from his own party leadership. Prime Minister Topolanek said last week that dismissing the deputy prime minister was the least desirable option open to him. The Green Party has threatened to leave the coalition government if Mr. Cunek remains in office. The Christian Democratic party leadership has so far refused to force Mr. Cunek's hand. Last week party members left the assembly hall in order not to have to take a clear stand on the issue.
Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek has vowed to persuade Civic Democrat
deputy Vlastimil Tlusty to back the government's reform package in the
lower house. Mr. Tlusty, a senior member of the strongest governing
party and a former finance minister, said he could not support the
government's tax and spending reform package since it fell short of the
Civic Democratic Party's election promises. Other right-wing lawmakers
have joined in the criticism, though no other deputy has threatened to
withdraw support for the reform package.
The prime minister said last week that his fragile coalition government would resign if the reform package failed to win approval. The centre right coalition government only managed to win a confidence vote in the lower house thanks to two left-wing defectors and it now needs collective backing from all coalition parties plus the vote of at least one of the defectors in order to push through a bill in the 200 seat lower house.
In a related development, Roma rights activists are planning to stage a protest outside government headquarters on Wednesday, at a time when the cabinet is expected to be in session. Roma activists have announced their intention to file a joint lawsuit against Mr. Cunek for "inciting hatred against an ethnic group". In an recent interview for the Czech tabloid daily Blesk the deputy prime minister suggested that in order to be entitled to state subsidies like Romanies other people would need to get a suntan and start causing trouble in order to attract politician's attention.
A spokeswoman for the Interior Ministry has categorically denied the allegation that the ministry's inspectorate is suspecting Minister Langer of deliberately using other people's phones to talk to detectives from the anti-organised crime unit. She added that "the inspectorate is not investigating Minister Langer and therefore it cannot suspect him of anything."
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