Old age pensions in the Czech Republic will increase by 346 crowns monthly on average as of next year, Labour and Social Affairs Minister Petr Necas told journalists after a cabinet meeting on Monday. The minister said that the living standard of pensioners would not drop despite the fiscal reform package approved by the government. He said increased expenditures would be further compensated in 2009 if necessary. Opposition parties on the other hand argue that the increase in pensions is woefully inadequate to counter the expected price hikes resulting from higher VAT tax on food, medicines and transport.
Archive materials newly come to light suggest that in the hard-line 1950s the communist secret police abducted Czechs who had fled the country, smuggling them back to their homeland for years of imprisonment. At least two dozen people were forcibly brought back in this manner to face torture and show trials. One such case was the forced repatriation of the former Social Democrat deputy Bohumil Lausman in 1949. Lausman left Czechoslovakia in the wake of the 1948 coup but was brought back in 1953. He was sentenced to 17 years in prison and died under suspicious circumstances ten years later. Other kidnappings were planned but never carried out.
The Czech government on Monday said it had sent more than 420 tonnes of wheat seed to Moldova to counter the "catastrophic effects of a local drought." The government of the former Soviet republic, one of the poorest countries in Europe, appealed for international help after drought hit its first harvest this year. The Czech government has requested that the seed be divided between the worst struck areas.
The Girl in Pink, a 1916 painting by Cubist painter Josef Capek has been sold for 12 million crowns (614,000 US dollars), the second-highest price ever fetched at auction for a Czech painting. The painting was put on the market by a private collector whose entire art collection was confiscated by the communist authorities and returned to him after 1989. Josef Capek, brother of the Czech playwright Karel Capek, was an outstanding representative of Czech Cubism. He was arrested by the Nazis and died in a concentration camp in 1945.
Addressing a UN conference on climate change in New York President Klaus questioned the need for immediate action on global warming. He said that the degree of global warming over the past years, decades and centuries was negligible in the historical perspective and argued that it was not even proven that human activity had caused it. He argued that the international community was under the sway of ambitious environmentalists who promoted their "highly speculative hypothesis" to justify curtailing personal freedom and economic growth but who in actual fact had very little proof to support their claims. The president's words have evoked concern back in Prague where politicians fear that Mr. Klaus' singular opinions on climate change might harm the Czech Republic's chances of gaining a seat on the UN Security Council. The environment minister, Martin Bursik, stressed that the Czech president was not speaking on behalf of the Czech government and environment groups have described Mr. Klaus' views as totally misguided.
An opinion poll conducted by the STEM agency indicates that the opposition Social Democrats are edging ahead of their main rival, the ruling Civic Democratic Party. Its findings suggest that if elections were held today the Social Democrats would come out top of the pile with 33 percent of the vote, followed closely by the Civic Democrats with just 0,8 percent less. The Communists would come third with 15.3 percent of the vote, followed by the Greens and Christian Democrats with 7.1 and 6.8 percent respectively. The Social Democrats lead was reflected in two earlier polls conducted by CVVM and Factum Invenio.
The European Union's newest members risk losing some of the funds reserved for them in the bloc's joint budget because they are failing to use it quickly enough, the European Commission said Monday. The 10 countries which joined the bloc in May 2004, the Czech Republic included, have only used up 57 percent of the money that was reserved for their regional development projects. However, under existing rules they have only two years to use the money, meaning that funds budgeted in 2005 have to be used by the end of 2007. The EC has urged these countries to improve their administrative management so that they can make use of the EU funds available to them before they expire.
The Czech crown hit a record high against the dollar on Monday after the US currency fell through the 19.50 crown-per-dollar threshold to trade at 19.49 crowns per dollar. Economists said higher inflation fears twinned with worries about a slow down in the economy and interest rate cuts were behind the slide. The Czech currency was stable against the euro at around 27.50 crowns with no major changes expected ahead of the meeting of the national bank board on Thursday.
The Czech prime minister, Mirek Topolanek, has lashed out at journalists accusing them of bias, betrayal and corrupt practices and calling for a law which would regulate press freedom. At his regular Monday press briefing the prime minister verbally attacked individual members of the press saying that they had attempted to blackmail him by threatening to write whatever they wanted if he did not answer their questions. He said some of the articles delving into his private life were scandalous and had clearly been commissioned by his main rival opposition leader Jiri Paroubek and he accused the press of buying classified information from the police. The prime minister said that while he was inclined to be broad minded the present circumstances called for a law which would regulate press freedom.
Banks in the Czech Republic have so far issued almost 8.3 million payment cards, with a year-on-year increase of 690,000, according to data published by the Bank Card Association (Sdruzeni pro bankovni karty). The number of credit cards issued by banks has exceeded 1 million. In the first half of 2007, Czechs bought goods worth 71 billion crowns using payment cards. In the same period, Czechs withdrew 264 billion crowns from ATMs. Debit cards are the most frequent type of cards but the number of credit cards issued by Czech banks has been rising recently.
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