The European Union expects the Czech Republic to return 430 million CZK (21.5 million USD) worth of grant money, after it was revealed that the money had been misused by the Czech Ministry of Regional Development. On Thursday, the newspaper Právo reported that the European Commission had already asked for the first 330 million CZK to be returned, and would decide upon the final 100 million CZK later. The Czech Finance Ministry has confirmed the reports. The scandal surrounding the misuse of EU funds took place at the Ministry of Regional Development in the 1990s. In 2006, ten businessmen and some high-ranking ministry officials were found guilty of embezzling funds from the EUs Phare programme.
A march planned by neo-Nazis in Plzeň on Saturday has been banned by the town’s authorities. The march had been planned by neo-Nazis in protest against what they called the curtailment of freedom of speech. Far-right groups were unhappy with the decision of Prague authorities in November to ban a similar march through the town’s Jewish quarter on the anniversary of Kristallnacht – a Nazi pogrom. The neo-Nazis were planning to march through Plzeň on the anniversary of the transportation of the town’s Jews to the concentration camp Terezín. Plzeň authorities had originally allowed the march to take place, and hundreds of neo-Nazis were expected to turn up, but, on Thursday, in the face of strong media pressure, the municipality outlawed the march.
Václav Havel has received a Karel Čapek award from the Czech PEN club. On Thursday, Mr. Havel was awarded the prize in Prague’s Old Town Square, for his overwhelming contribution to Czech literature over the years. The prize has been handed out every two years since it was created back in 1994. Former president Vaclav Havel has been the honourary head of the Czech PEN club since he resuscitated the society after the fall of communism in 1989.
The Czech parliamentary Healthcare Commission has recommended that the country outlaw smoking in its restaurants, bars and nightclubs as of January 1, 2009. The Parliament will discuss the matter officially at the end of the month. MPs have voted on whether to ban smoking in Czech restaurants in the past, but have always decided against the move. Despite an increasing number of European countries opting for a smoking ban in public places, the Czech Republic has been reluctant to follow suit, with many fearing that a ban would lower takings in pubs and restaurants, and infringe traders’ rights. Smoking is already banned in certain places in the Czech Republic, for example, the national rail network has outlawed smoking on its trains.
Visa announced on Thursday that its customers in the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary could have been left out of pocket following a glitch in its systems earlier this week. An unspecified number of customers who withdrew money from ATMs in the region at the beginning of the week have been left with duplicated withdrawals on their accounts. A spokesperson for the company said that customers could have been charged on more than one occasion for each withdrawal that they made. One Polish newspaper reported that its editor had been charged on 17 occasions for a single withdrawal. Visa has declined to comment upon the number of customers affected by the glitch. The firm did, however, stress that this was not the work of hackers. According to a spokesperson, the problem has now been fixed, and customers will be refunded.
The Senate approved a proposal to outlaw aggressive and misleading sales tactics on Thursday, which now awaits the president’s signature to become law. The consumer protection bill calls for the outlawing of sales techniques which unfairly force the consumer into purchase. At threat from the bill are so-called ‘advertised excursions’ which are particularly targeted at the elderly. Advertised excursions involve travel to a factory or shop where different products are then pushed. The law also bans salespeople from charging for products or services that the customer did not ask for. Consumer watchdogs have praised the proposals, which are expected to become law in the very near future.
Shares on the Prague Stock Exchange slumped to their lowest level in more than 13 months on Thursday, following further sell-offs by foreign investors. The blue-chip PX index fell by 0.55% to 1,561.5 points, its lowest value since November 2006. The loss in value of the shares has been attributed to the current financial situation in the US, and on global markets. The Czech bank Komerční banka sustained the biggest losses of the day, with shares shedding 6.03% to 3,645 CZK.
The chief of the U.S Missile Defence Agency, Henry Obering, told a Czech National Security Council meeting on Thursday that any radar built by the United States in the Czech Republic would fall under the remit of NATO. Mr Obering is in the Czech Republic this week, accompanied by a US delegation, to discuss contracts and possible cooperation with Czech firms should the radar base be built. The Czech Republic is expected to make its final decision on the radar later this year.
Czech tennis star Tomáš Berdych is through to the third round of the Australian Open after beating Spaniard Oscar Hernandez in straight sets. Berdych disposed of his opponent 6:2, 6:1, 6:3 in just under 90 minutes. The tournament’s 13th seed is now set to meet with Argentina’s Juan Monaco in the third round.
If the Czech public were able to vote in next month’s presidential elections, then Jan Švejnar would win, suggests a poll commissioned by the opposition Social Democrats and conducted by the STEM agency. Fifty-two percent of the polls respondents said that they would vote for Mr Švejnar, while the remaining 48% said that they would pot for Mr Klaus. According to the poll, those who normally vote for the Social Democrats, the Greens and the Communists backed Mr Švejnar, while Civic Democratic voters overwhelmingly gave Mr Klaus their support. Those who didn’t affiliate themselves with any political party were split roughly down the middle over the two candidates. Mr Švejnar had a clear lead over Václav Klaus when it came to women voters, the poll found. The president will be elected by Czech deputies and senators on February 8.