The Czech Republic plans to sign an agreement with the United States, outlining conditions for future visa-free relations between the two countries, despite EU pressure on Prague not to do so. The Czech deputy PM for European affairs, Alexandr Vondra, told journalists on Monday that Prague was not negotiating behind the EU’s back, but that simply waiting for further developments was not a way forward, in his opinion. Brussels is trying to persuade the Czech Republic to at least delay signing an accord with the US on entering into its visa-waiver programme. Some EU countries are worried that US demands within the agreement infringe data protection laws. It is feared that if the Czech Republic signs an agreement, then there will be increased pressure upon other EU members to follow suit.
The Czech government has sold more of its stake in the energy-giant ČEZ. In the last week, the government has gone from owning 67.61 percent of the company to 65.75 percent. In March 2007, the Czech cabinet passed a resolution allowing it to sell off seven percent of the power producer in order to raise funds to be spent on the country’s road system. The amount expected to be generated by the seven-percent sale is 31 billion CZK (1.8 billion USD). ČEZ is the largest Central European energy producer and the most profitable Czech company. In 2007, it was estimated to have made a profit of 42.6 billion CZK (nearly 2.5 billion USD).
The chairwoman of the Czech Supreme Court, Iva Brožová, has filed a lawsuit against her deputy, Pavel Kučera, over his controversial involvement in the prosecution of former deputy PM Jiří Čunek. Mr Kučera stands accused of exerting pressure upon state attorneys dealing with Mr Čunek’s case to put a halt to proceedings. Mr Kučera has denied all charges. A spokesperson for the Supreme Court said that at this stage no further information would be divulged so as to observe Mr Kučera’s presumption of innocence, and so as not to influence the panel of judges dealing with his case. Mr Kučera is accused of meeting the regional state attorney in Ostrava in a bid to influence the investigation into whether the head of the Christian Democrats, Mr Čunek, accepted a half-a-million-crown bribe in 2002.
The Czech Republic will recognise Kosovo’s independence should the majority of European states formally do so, Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg has said. A large majority of European states announced their intention to recognise Kosovo’s independence in Brussels on Monday, but the system for formal recognition, and the length of the process, will now vary from country to country. The Czech Foreign Minister said that he did not want to set any date for the recognition of an independent Kosovo; he said it also depended upon the way that Kosovar authorities now moved forward.
The parents of two baby girls who were swapped at birth in a Třebíč maternity ward have been unable to agree with the hospital concerned on damages and are taking the matter to court. Each set of parents has demanded 12 million CZK (nearly 700,000 USD) from the hospital, while it says it is willing to give the parents 1 million CZK (58,000 USD) each. The hospital’s lawyer says that no long term psychological damage had been caused by the mix-up, and thus the hospital could not consider handing out such a high amount. The parents are asking for 1 million crowns for each month they were separated from their own biological child. Veronika and Nikolka were swapped back only days before their first birthdays on December 9 last year.
Czech president Václav Klaus, who was re-elected last Friday, is to be sworn into office on March 7, it has been announced. March 7 is when Mr Klaus’s first term as president expires. The inauguration will take place in Prague Castle’s Vladislav Hall, with lawmakers from both houses of parliament present. Václav Klaus was re-elected in the third round of a second presidential election last week.
The opposition Social Democrats have launched what they call a ‘battle’ to stop their deputies switching allegiance to other parties. Three Social Democrat MPs have defected to the ruling Civic Democratic Party since the elections. On Tuesday, the head of the Social Democrats, Jiří Paroubek, pledged that his party would not try and entice deputies from other political parties to defect, he asked the other parties in the Czech parliament to pledge the same thing. He said that enticing MPs to switch allegiance was ‘undemocratic’. It remains unlikely that the other parties in the Czech parliament will enter into the proposed pact.
The runner-up in last week’s presidential elections, Jan Švejnar, has said that he will now return to his post on the supervisory board of ČSOB bank. Mr Švejnar quit the post in November during his presidential campaign when accusations of a conflict of interests emerged. Over the last year ČSOB has been locked in a legal dispute with the Czech state worth billions of crowns. Mr Švejnar’s spokesperson said he would be reinstated as chairman of the bank’s supervisory board as of March 1. The Czech-American economics professor has not ruled out a future career in Czech politics, but has said that he first wants to have a rest after an exhausting presidential campaign.
The Civic Democrat senators group has announced that it intends to press charges against European Democrat senator Josef Novotný. The charges centre around public claims made by Mr Novotný that an as yet unnamed Civic Democrat senator offered him a two-million-crown bribe (around 116,000 USD) to vote for Václav Klaus in the recent presidential elections. The senator’s claims are already being investigated by the police and Josef Novotný has indicated that he will only reveal the name of the alleged person to the police for fear of being accused of slander.
A newly released poll by the Czech STEM agency suggests that of all the security-related public institutions, the army maintains the trust of 57% of Czechs. These numbers represent a marginal decline on previous figures. Other statistics released by STEM indicate that the police enjoy the support of around 50% of Czechs, while city police enjoy the support of only 43% of people. On the international front, 55% of Czechs trust NATO, 78% trust Interpol while 94% support the fire services.
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