The Confederation of Czech and Moravian trade unions has declared a strike alert in protest against the fiscal reforms introduced by the centre-right government. The vast majority of leaders in this umbrella trade union organization supported the move at an extraordinary meeting on Monday. Union leaders say the impact of the reforms on the socially weaker groups of the population has been devastating. Among the most criticized measures is the introduction of direct payments for medical services. The two smaller parties of the ruling coalition – the Christian Democrats and the Greens – have already expressed an inclination to temper the measures by exempting children and pensioners from the medical fees.
President Václav Klaus’ first foreign visit in his second term of office will take him to neighbouring Slovakia, the president’s office announced on Monday. The president and first lady are to travel to Bratislava on March 10th where they will be received at Bratislava Castle by President Ivan Gašparovič. On the following day the Czech presidential couple is expected in Poland. President Klaus will be sworn in on Friday, March 7.
Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek is to present the anti-communist fighter Milan Paumer with a prime minister’s medal on Tuesday. Mr. Paumer together with the Mašín brothers, whom the prime minister decorated in Washington last week, were engaged in subversive actions against the communist regime in the hardline 1950s and eventually escaped to the West killing six people in the process. The prime minister’s decision to decorate them has caused enormous controversy since the public is divided over their actions – some consider them heroes, others murderers. Previous efforts by members of the Senate to get them state distinctions did not garner sufficient support.
Czech insurance companies are expected to pay hundreds of millions of crowns (tens of millions of dollars) in damages caused by hurricane-force winds over the weekend. Insurers have been inundated with calls after winds of up to 95 miles per hour ripped off roofs, uprooted trees and felled power lines. Two people were killed in the wind-storm, one an eleven-year-old girl. Rail and road traffic was disrupted for most of the weekend and at one point over 900,000 people were left without electricity. People have been warned not to enter the country’s forests where emergency crews have been working around the clock clearing the damage.
The Czech Supreme Court has upheld the complaint of an old woman who claims to have grown cannabis for medical purposes in her vegetable patch but was found guilty of illegal production and possession of drugs by a lower-level court. The lawyer who defended the woman pointed out that growing cannabis on such small scale could hardly be classified as illegal drug production. The woman said she used the leaves for poultices. The Supreme Court returned the case to a lower level court saying the state attorney had not adequately proved the woman’s criminal intent.
Czech World War II hero Čestmír Šikola has died at the age of 89, the newspaper Mladá fronta Dnes reported. Mr Šikola was one of the last surviving men to have been parachuted into occupied Bohemia and Moravia by the British. He used his skills as a wireless operator to send around 800 intelligence reports to London from the Protectorate between 1942 and 1945.
Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek has congratulated Dmitry Medvedev on his victory in the Russian presidential elections and expressed the hope that the Czech Republic and Russia would continue to foster good relations and economic cooperation. He nevertheless expressed regret that the presidential elections in Russia had not met certain internationally accepted norms such as a level playing field for all candidates and an independent mission of foreign observers.
Two American citizens who were detained by the foreigners’ police in the town of Prostějov three weeks ago have been deported from the Czech Republic. The two men had overstayed the 90-day period for which no visas are required. They originally asked for asylum in the Czech Republic hoping to be allowed to stay but withdrew the request when they were told their chances of obtaining asylum were practically non-existent. The Czech Republic’s entry to the Schengen border-free zone has made life difficult for US citizens living here illegally. While in the past they merely had to cross the country’s borders once every three months in order to get a fresh stamp in their passport now they would have to travel outside of the Schengen area in order to start a new 90-day period in the country.
Mr Topolánek also spoke about his visit to Washington last week, denying that there was any link between a US pledge to add the Czech Republic to its Visa Waiver Programme and American plans to build a radar base in central Bohemia. The prime minister said Czech politicians had been trying to win visa-free travel to the US since 1989 and it was not the work of one government. Mr Topolánek has previously said the Czech Parliament will vote on the radar base around the time of a NATO summit in Bucharest in April. Opinion polls have suggested most Czechs are opposed to the building of such a facility.
Prague’s Sazka Arena has been renamed the O2 Arena. Its operators say the arena, opened in time for the 2004 World Ice Hockey Championships and used today as a venue for hockey games and concerts, is the most modern building of its kind in Europe. Under a sponsorship deal set to last five years, the 02 arena is adopting the colour blue used in the mobile operator’s advertisements.
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