A late-night explosion caused a panic in the town of Jablonná nad Orlicí on Friday night. The house where the explosion took place was completely demolished by the blast and the windows of dozens of surrounding houses were shattered within a 100-metre-radius. The owner of the house was found buried under the rubble, badly injured. He was flown to hospital and remains in critical condition. Police are investigating the cause of the blast. According to unofficial sources a gas leak may have been responsible.
Ex-president Václav Havel has launched a stinging attack on Civic Democrats at Prague City Hall. In an article published in Saturday’s Lidové Noviny Mr. Havel criticized the city hall for cutting subsidies to the arts, for its lack of urban planning and for a reliance on tourist revenues. In an unusually blunt intervention in domestic politics the former president said the management of Prague City Hall was hurting Prague’s interests. City lawmakers have sparked a wave of protests from Prague’s theatrical world with a new programme of subsidies which Mr. Havel said would strangle to death non-profit-making theatres. The ex-president also criticized the city hall for sanctioning what he called “uninspired architecture” with giant warehouses and shopping centres “spreading like cancer” and the fact that local life was being forced out of the city centre.
Former prime minister Miloš Zeman is not ruling out the possibility of running in direct presidential elections at some future date should he receive broad public support. Responding to rumors that he was considering a return to active politics, Mr. Zeman said that if lawmakers changed the Constitution opening the way for direct presidential elections and if he received broad support from the public he might be tempted to re-enter politics. Mr. Zeman has been living a quiet life in retirement ever since his unsuccessful candidacy for the presidential post in 2003. His chances of getting elected were thwarted by rebels in his own Social Democratic Party after which Mr. Zeman vowed never to return to politics.
The opposition Social Democrats are holding a two-day party conference on policy matters in preparation for the autumn local and Senate elections. Opposition leader Jiří Paroubek slammed the reforms of the centre-right government and said that as soon as it got the chance his party would scrap medical fees, prevent the introduction of university fees and bring back blanket child benefits. The opposition leader said he was confident that the autumn local and Senate elections would reflect the public’s widespread dissatisfaction with the present state of affairs.
A fight between skinheads and anarchists that broke out unexpectedly on Prague’s Naměstí Republiky on Saturday afternoon left six people injured. The injured, aged between 18 and 38, suffered broken bones, bruises and concussion. One youth got both his wrists broken. Eyewitnesses said the groups appeared to have met by chance and a fight broke out after some verbal provocation. Police are investigating the incident.
Two young Czechs who have been on a hunger strike since May 13th in protest against the siting of a US radar in the Czech Republic have asked to meet with President Klaus. Anti-radar activist Jan Tamáš sent the president an open letter requesting a meeting, shortly after Mr. Klaus urged American Vice-President Dick Cheney to speed up the signing of a bilateral agreement on the radar. In the letter Jan Tamáš says he is deeply disturbed by the fact that the president should be going against the will of his people and suggests that by doing so Mr. Klaus is trampling on democracy in the Czech Republic.
The leader of the opposition Social Democrats Jiří Paroubek met with architect Jan Kaplický on Friday to express support for his avant garde design for the new national library, a building originally planned for Prague’s Letná Plain nicknamed “the Octopus” or “the Blob”. The project came to a standstill after objections were voiced by City Hall, including the mayor, and disputes emerged over funding as well as zoning on the original property. On Friday, Mr Paroubek said that if his party were in government the building would receive the 3 to 4 billion crowns needed for its construction. The topic of the national library is now likely to become a heated ahead of the next elections. The head of the national library, Vlastimil Ježek, will reportedly also meet with Mr Paroubek to try and drum up new support for the stalled project.
The city of Prague is set to join a number of Czech municipalities clamping down on littering and other soiling of city streets. On Thursday legislators at City Hall passed a decree allowing police to fine anyone caught throwing cigarette butts or chewing gum on the street 1,000 crowns. A refusal to pay, leading to administrative proceedings, could see the fine raised to 30,000 (the equivalent of around 1,800 US dollars). The law applies not only to the throwing away of wrappers but also of food scraps. Similarly, anyone failing to pick up after their dog or caught spitting or urinating in public could also be fined. Some have expressed scepticism the legislation will be effective but towns already with experience with such bans have attested to positive results. The changes are to take effect in Prague on July 1.
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