Czech soldiers on foreign missions are to be given an extra 900 USD a month on top of their basic pay. The defence minister Vlasta Parkanová made the announcement on Tuesday, adding that this was just a temporary measure until a new rewards system was put in place. The army had been pushing for soldiers on foreign missions to receive such an allowance for some time. Those behind the proposals argued that extra remuneration was needed due to the US dollar’s slump in value against the crown, and because Czech soldiers are finding themselves on increasingly dangerous foreign missions. The average monthly salary of a full-time Czech soldier is around 23,000 CZK (just over 1,400 USD).
The Greek Catholic Church plans to build its first church in the Czech Republic in Hradec Kralové, Mladá fronta Dnes reported on Wednesday. The project is expected to take three years to complete and cost in the region of 10 million crowns (615,000 USD). There are around 8000 adherents to Greek Catholicism registered in the Czech Republic, the majority of the religion’s followers have Ukrainian or Slovak ancestry. Worshippers can currently attend Greek Catholic services held weekly in churches belonging to other denominations in the Czech Republic.
The opposition Social Democrats’ proposal to award pensioners each a one-off lump sum of 6,000 CZK (around 360 USD) was rejected by the Czech Lower House on Wednesday. The Social Democrats had argued that pensioners required such a financial boost to offset the impact of the government’s public finance reforms, which came into effect as of January this year. But Labour and Social Affairs Minister Petr Nečas responded that the opposition’s proposals were nothing but sheer populism. The government is considering raising pensions itself by 465 crowns (28 USD) a month from August onwards. This proposal will be discussed in Parliament on April 1.
The use of cage beds in health and social care facilities should be defined by law, the government voted on Wednesday. The absence of legally defined conditions surrounding the use of cage beds in the Czech Republic has come under fire from the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture. There are calls from within the government to regulate the use of cage beds - alongside other means of restriction such as straightjackets - in the law on public health or the health services’ law. Cage beds were outlawed in Czech social care facilities in 2005, in the same year, the government brought out a series of recommendations to govern their use in the country’s psychiatric facilities. A recent BBC report which claimed that Czech children’s homes were still using cage beds illegally again brought the controversial topic into the public eye.
The Czech National Bank left interest rates unchanged on Wednesday, in a move which was widely predicted. This means that the overnight discount rate for commercial bank loans will stay at 3.75 percent. The national bank last raised interest rates at the beginning of last month. Despite a 1.25 percent rise in interest rates in the last year, the Czech Republic still has the lowest rate of interest in the entire European Union.
Former president Václav Havel’s new play ‘Odcházení’ or ‘Leaving’ will be premiered on May 22 at Prague’s Divadlo Archa, it was announced on Tuesday. The play is Mr Havel’s first after a gap of nearly two decades. Several other Prague theatres had been named as possible locations for the play, but negotiations failed for various reasons. Talks with the National Theatre collapsed in part over Mr Havel’s insistence that his wife play the female lead. The play was also withdrawn from the capital’s Divadlo na Vinhradech, with technical difficulties being cited as the reason.
Czechs will not be issued with passports which bear their fingerprints until April 2009. The government originally wanted to issue passports containing such biometric data as early as May of this year, but due to a hold-up at the European Union end, this date has now been put back. According to Interior Minister, Ivan Langer, the adjournment was not caused by the Czech Republic’s lack of preparation, but by a discussion within the European Union about what exact biometric data the passports should contain. On Wednesday, the Czech Senate approved a bill which delays the issue of such passports for another year.
As of April, cyclists will be able to take their bikes onto Prague’s trams, the city’s Public Transport Company announced on Wednesday. Up until now, cyclists have only been able to take their bikes onto the city’s metro trains. The service will be provided to cyclists for free, but will only function from eight o’clock in the evening until five in the morning during the week, and all day at weekends. Cyclists will only be able to take their bikes with them on certain routes as well. The idea will be tested until the end of this year, at which point the Prague Transport Company will decide whether to expand upon the scheme.
The Czech police have arrested a man they say was an accomplice to František Procházka, who stands accused of stealing half a million crowns in cash, in what the Czech media has dubbed ‘the theft of the century’. The police have refused to disclose the suspect’s identity. The theft took place last December, when Mr Procházka, then a security guard, made away with half a million crowns that he was supposed to be delivering. Police are yet to locate Mr Procházka, and are hoping that the arrest of one of his accomplices may lead to his whereabouts.
Czech politicians have denounced an offer by the ultra-right National Party to place a controversial anti-Islamic film on its web site, calling it irresponsible and foolhardy. The film by the Dutch ultra-right MP Geert Wilders describes the Koran as a fascist book that teaches intolerance and provokes violence. Dutch TV channels have refused to broadcast it and the Dutch authorities fear that it could stir up violent protests in the Muslim world. Czech Interior Minister Ivan Langer said the offer had been made by a group of ignorant fools and expressed the hope that they would not be taken seriously. Opposition politicians likewise distanced themselves from the National Party’s activities, noting that they were only doing their best to get noticed.
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