The spokeswoman for the country’s foreign ministry has revealed that Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg has enlisted help from an outside firm to look into the finances of fellow cabinet member Jiří Čunek. According to the official, the private investigation and security firm Kroll has been brought in to look into the Mr Čunek’s dealings as part of an agreement that saw the controversial Christian Democrat leader return to the cabinet after an absence of five months. Mr Čunek was forced to step down last November over accusations of abuse and corruption. The audit into his finances is expected to take six weeks.
The government's Council for Equal Opportunities will recommend to the government the drafting of a bill which would make stalking in the Czech Republic a criminal offence; the announcement was made by the Minister for Human Rights and Minorities Džamila Stehlíková on Friday. Stalking often plays a role in domestic violence cases, in which former spouses are targeted. Currently, it is prosecuted as a crime in several EU countries, Mrs Stehlíková pointed out. Stalking as a criminal offence appeared in an earlier version of the draft criminal code but was later deleted. Organisations focussed on helping victims of domestic violence are backing its re-inclusion, saying it could allow for the better protection of victims and prevent some cases from escalating into tragedy.
The Czech news agency ČTK has reported that funding cuts in the agriculture sector planned by the European Commission have undergone substantial revision and will not be nearly as strict as originally proposed. Under the original plan, large farms receiving more than 300,000 euros a year stood to lose 45 percent of funding. Citing the latest proposal, ČTK has said the cuts will be far lower: nine percent. The Czech agriculture sector had complained it would be unfairly hit under the previous numbers: for historic reasons, including forced collectivisation in the 1950s, farms in the Czech Republic are often larger enterprises which, Czech officials had argued would suffer a serious disadvantage. The Agriculture Minister Petr Gandalovič said on Friday that changes in the EC’s stance were the result of “months of efforts” by Czech officials heading a coalition of representatives from like-minded countries.
Czech president Václav Klaus has vetoed an anti-discrimination bill passed in Parliament calling the legislation “poor, counter-productive and unnecessary”. The decision was revealed by the president’s office on Friday. The European Union has called on the Czech Republic to pass legislation ensuring equal access to education, work, and health care, but the president countered the legislation proposed was already covered sufficiently under Czech law. In a letter sent to the speaker of the lower house the president contends that EU directives are “only binding with regards to results”, but that the methods of achieving goals “depended on individual member states”. The aim of the anti-discrimination law, backed by the EU, is to ensure the same opportunities for all irrespective of age, race, nationality, sex, or religious belief. The bill will now return to the lower house.
Organisers have reported that American actor Nick Nolte – the star of memorable films like 48 Hours, Down and Out in Beverly Hills and The Thin Red Line will be attending this year’s Karlovy Vary Film festival, held in early July. The 67-year-old actor will be present to kick-off the world premiere of a documentary with the title "Nick Nolte: No Exit" by director Tom Thurman.
A Czech court has ordered custody for Tomáš Půta and Maroš Šulej - members of the notorious Berdych gang who were extradited from Ireland this week. The state attorney Tomáš Milec revealed the information on Thursday. Both suspects were detained in Ireland on a European arrest warrant in August 2006. The Supreme Court in Dublin decided on their extradition to the Czech Republic. Charges levelled against them include taking part in robbery. Mr Půta has already been sentenced for two years in prison for a past brutal attack and also faces charges in the abduction and murder of a Czech businessman.
Czech teachers' unions have called a one-day strike for June 9 in pursuit of higher wages for teachers as well as to protest the government's current pay offer. A representative said that teachers’ wages had fallen in real terms by 5.2 percent in 2008. According to the unions, more than half of the country's 200,000 teachers are in favour of striking, and are ready to close down nursery, primary and secondary schools. The government has offered teachers an extra 500 million crowns this year (around 31 million US dollars) and 4 billion the next. But the unions have demanded 3 billion this year with pay raises for support staff as well as teachers.
17 Czech universities, including the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague, Masaryk University in Brno, and the Prague School of Economics, have launched software targeting plagiarisers in the school system. The software was developed at Masaryk University and cost 10 million crowns donated by the education ministry. Prague’s Charles University has not yet signed on but is considering the move. The software aims to prevent students from stealing material written by others – not only from school archives but also on the internet - and presenting it as their own work.
The finance ministry has opened a tender aimed at finding an advisor for the privatisation of the Czech national carrier, Czech Airlines. The process will run until August 7. The Czech government would like to sell the carrier, in which it holds a 91 percent stake, by the end of the year or early 2009. A spokesman for the finance ministry said that important criteria determining the choice of the winning advisory firm would include not only overall costs but also the privatisation plans themselves. Czech Airlines has been estimated as worth 5 billion crowns (the equivalent of more than 300 million US dollars). Potential interest in the carrier has been expressed in the past by both Aeroflot and Air France.
Growth of the Czech GDP slowed down to 5.4 percent in the first quarter of 2008, the Czech Statistical Office reported on Thursday. Analysts predicted a slightly higher figure but faster growth has been impeded by price-rises. Czech foreign trade also slowed down in the first three months of 2008 but higher productivity and a lower unemployment rate contributed to the growth of the Czech economy this year.