A Czech government delegation led by Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek is in Portugal where EU leaders on Thursday signed the Treaty of Lisbon, a toned down version of the EU constitution which French and Dutch voters rejected in national referendums in 2005. The signing will start a ratification process by national EU parliaments which is to be concluded by January of 2009. The new pact aims to create a more effective foreign policy, stronger leadership and more streamlined decision making within the expanded 27 member block. Observers say that its chances of winning approval are higher than that of the old treaty since the vast majority of EU member states have indicated they will ratify the text in parliament. Only Ireland is constitutionally bound to hold a national referendum.
As of next year inmates in Czech prisons will not be able to refuse work for municipalities and regions. An amendment to the penal code, signed by President Klaus on Thursday, aims to increase the number of employed prisoners in the Czech Republic. According to the current law, persons serving prison sentences are only obliged to work for the state. However, prisons and other state organisations do not have enough jobs available for inmates. The amended law is expected to increase the interest of municipalities and regions in employing prisoners.
Pope Benedict XVI will not be visiting the Czech Republic next year on the occasion of the 1100 birth anniversary of St. Wenceslas, the Czech patron saint. An invitation was extended by Jan Graubner, head of the Czech Bishops Conference, but the Vatican said the Pope already had a full schedule that year.
Two former detectives of the Interior Ministry’s elite crime squad have received high prison sentences for conspiring with gangsters. Josef Opava and Petr Konarik received 13- and ten-year prison sentences respectively for conspiring with the leaders of the so-called Berdych gang, providing them with information from police files, destroying evidence in their favour and helping them escape prosecution on numerous occasions. The Berdych gang is believed to be the biggest organized crime ring in the country. It is suspected of a vast number of murders, robberies and extortion of rich entrepreneurs in the years between 1995 and 2004. Some members of the gang have already been convicted, others are awaiting trial.
A live newborn baby which was found in a garbage can early on Thursday morning and rushed to intensive care is said to be out of danger. Doctors said the baby boy had been brought in with severe hypothermia, a head injury and bruises. The baby’s life was saved at the eleventh hour by a homeless man who found him in the garbage can. Although the baby was reportedly carried full term and born healthy doctors say they cannot rule out permanent damage. There are five baby boxes operating in the Czech Republic where people can leave unwanted newborns. Another three are to be set up next year.
Lingering uncertainty about the Czech Republic’s euro adoption timetable has prompted the country’s Central Bank to increase its production of crown coins. The original plan was to adopt the euro in 2010 but a huge fiscal deficit and unfinished pension and health reforms have led the government to postpone the target date for euro adoption indefinitely. The slippage in the euro schedule made the bank change tack, boosting the production of coins in various denominations.
A government commission and representatives of the country’s 17 registered churches have reached agreement on a settlement of church restitution claims. According to Culture Minister Vaclav Jehlicka the state has offered to restitute a third of the property churches have laid claim to and is ready to pay financial compensation for property which cannot be restituted over a period of 60 to 70 years. This arrangement has been approved by church representatives and will now be presented to the government and parliament for approval.
Prague’s Archa Theatre has announced that it will be premiering ex-president Vaclav Havel’s play “Leaving” in May of next year. After a wrangle over which Prague theatre would get the honour of presenting Mr. Havel’s first play in more than 18 years it seemed that finding a stage for it would not be easy. Talks with the National Theatre collapsed over Mr. Havel’s insistence that his actress wife Dagmar should get the main role. And earlier today the Na Vinohradech theatre backed out saying that its limited finances would not allow it to fulfill the technical and budgetary demands of the play’s director. It now appears that Archa Teatre has saved the day.
Economist Jan Svejnar, the man who is expected to be president Klaus’ sole rival in the February presidential elections, has collected signatures from ten senators confirming their willingness to officially propose him as a presidential candidate. Professor Jan Svejnar has dual Czech-American citizenship and lives alternately in Michigan and Prague. He has been testing the ground to ascertain how much support he would receive across the political spectrum and has not as yet officially confirmed his candidacy.
An international warrant had been issued for the arrest of Frantisek Prochazka. He stands accused of the biggest cash robbery in the country’s history, suspected of taking over half a billion CZK (around 31 million USD). Mr Prochazka was charged with the theft in absentia last Thursday. He has been missing since the robbery occurred. The suspect was working as a security guard for the firm G4S, from which the sum was stolen. G4S have offered a two-million euro reward to anyone who helps track Mr Prochazka or any possible accomplices down.