President Vaclav Klaus has praised German Chancellor for shifting the terms of the debate on the EU. After meeting with the German leader for three hours at the Meseberg chateau near Berlin on Tuesday evening, the Czech president told Czech Radio that he appreciated the fact that Ms Merkel was willing to discuss the future of the EU on an informal basis. He also said he was glad that under Germany's presidency of the EU, more emphasis was being placed on a new treaty on the operation of the Union and less stress was being put on the EU constitution and the idea of a common foreign policy; two ideas which Mr Klaus - a notorious Eurosceptic - has voiced his opposition to in the past.
Around 80 people demonstrated in support of Christian Democrat leader and Deputy Prime Minister Jiri Cunek outside government offices on Wednesday. The organiser of the event, musician Zdenek Horvath, said that the demonstrators were there to protest against the way police are investigating corruption allegations made against Mr Cunek, who is accused of taking a bribe of 500,000 crowns (25,000 US dollars) when he was mayor of the Moravian town of Vsetin five years ago. Mr Horvath said that those prosecuting Mr Cunek were simply hellbent on ousting him from politics and were not afraid of forging evidence to help their case. Mr Horvath also praised the deputy prime minister's controversial views on Roma integration. Mr Cunek met briefly with the demonstrators to thank them for their support.
Trade unions and management at Skoda Auto have reached agreement in a long-running pay dispute at the car-making plant. Workers' unions announced on Wednesday that they had accepted an offer of a pay increase of 12.7 percent beginning from April 1st next year. Employees will also receive a once-off payment of 2500 Czech crowns or just over 120 US dollars in July 2008. Earlier, thousands of Skoda workers had joined in a strike action on Tuesday in protest at their wages. No cars were produced at the factory in the course of the day and the company's losses were estimated to be 55 million crowns (or over 2.5 million US dollars). The deal now means that a threatened follow-up strike on Thursday will no longer go ahead.
Rival football fans clashed in Prague's Smichov area ahead of Wednesday's match between league leaders Slavia Prague and Viktoria Pilsen. A spokeswoman for the police told the Novinky.cz website that a fight broke out between around hundred fans on their way to the match. Three people were injured in the clashes and police arrested twenty five people.
On a working visit to Sweden, Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek said he expected a thorough investigation into corruption allegations surrounding the lease of Swedish-made Gripen fighter jets to the Czech Republic. Speaking to journalists in Stockholm, the Czech Prime Minister said he could not say how far the police investigation had progressed and he could not speed it up, but that everything was being done to get to the bottom of the affair. A scandal surrounding the lease of the fighter jets broke earlier this year when Swedish TV broadcast secret recordings of former Czech foreign minister Jan Kavan saying that Czech politicians took bribes linked to a deal to purchase Gripen supersonic jets from the British-Swedish consortium BAE Systems/Saab. Suspicions of corruption were further fanned by Mr Kavan's implication that a Czech police investigation could be influenced.
The cabinet on Wednesday unanimously approved a bill that should radically limit the immunity of Czech MPs and senators if it is approved. If passed by parliament, the bill will only protect MPs from lawsuits taken against them for speeches they make in parliament. It will not protect them from criminal investigations. The bill received the support of all the coalition parties, including the Christian Democrats whose leader Jiri Cunek was recently stripped of his parliamentary immunity so that he could be investigated by police on corruption charges. Critics of the proposal say that it has not been accompanied by the necessary legislative amendments to the Penal Code or the parliamentary rules of procedure.
Polna in south Moravia has been named the historical town of the year by the Association of Czech Historical Settlements. The town in the Bohemian-Moravian highlands won the award for preparing and implementing the best revitalisation project for an urban conservation area. The town, which has a population of 5,000 people, will receive a prize of one million Czech crowns (nearly 50,000 USD). The urban conservation area in Polna includes restored houses, a chateau and castle, a brewery, schools, an old hospital, churches, a square and a former Jewish district with a synagogue and other protected historical buildings. A total of 45 Czech towns took part in the competition.
A check of 874 clearance certificates, which was ordered by the Civic Democrat Interior Minister Ivan Langer, has revealed that 15 current employees at police headquarters collaborated with the former communist secret police before 1989, a spokesman with the Interior Ministry told the Czech Press Agency on Wednesday. The minister had ordered the check in reaction to the fact that in February the head of Czech Interpol Pavol Mihal was exposed as a former collaborator with the communist secret police despite being issued with a clearance certificate after undergoing a screening process known as "lustration". Mihal had obtained a lustration certificate by simply changing the spelling of his name slightly. People wishing to hold senior positions in the state administration must obtain a clearance certificate before taking up their post. Clearance is supposed to be denied to anyone who worked or collaborated with the communist secret police, who held a senior position in the Czechoslovak Communist Party or who was a member of the communist "People's Militia".
A new poll indicates that the biggest party in the coalition government, the Civic Democrats are losing ground to the opposition Social Democrats. The survey conducted by the STEM research agency suggests that the Civic Democrats are still the most popular party in the country with 29.2 percent of the vote, ahead of the Social Democrats who have 24.9 percent. Nevertheless the Civic Democrats' lead over their main rivals has dropped from eight percent last month to just over four percent this month. According to the poll, the Greens are the third most popular party in the country with 11.6 percent of the vote followed by the Communists with 10.9 percent and the Christian Democrats with 6.6 percent. The survey suggests that no other party would cross the five-percent threshold needed to gain seats in parliament.
The Czech Republic has made the most progress in reducing drink-driving
deaths in Europe but the number of victims has risen in other
countries, including Britain, according to a report published by the
Brussels-based European Transport Safety Council. Deaths from
alcohol-related accidents in the Czech Republic fell 11 percent faster
than other road deaths between 1996 and 2005, followed by Germany and
Poland with falls of about 6 and 5 percent, respectively, the report
said. Keys to bringing down the death rate were the blood-alcohol
limits for legal driving, which vary from country to country, as well
as testing of drivers by police, which remains patchy in many EU
Drink-driving and speeding is still the most frequent cause of road accidents in the Czech Republic but the traffic police regularly test drivers within big road safety operations. Last year the Czech Republic introduced a strict new road legislation with tough penalties for both speeding and drink-driving.
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