Police have confirmed a shooting in the popular Brno shopping centre “Vaňkovka” which left two people – one man, one woman - dead on Friday. The shooting took place in a café on shopping centre premises: witnesses said the two – now known to have been a married couple - had been sitting at one table, when he drew a gun and shot her, then himself. Emergency services were at the scene within minutes, but were unable revive the victim; her assailant died instantly. Both the assailant and the victim are estimated to have been in their early 60s; their identities, while known, have not yet been confirmed. Police suspect the man committed the murder/suicide after arguing with his wife over divorce proceedings.
The surging Czech crown set a new record of 22.999 crowns to the euro on Friday as the currency continued to be sought as a refuge from weakening equities, also reaching a new record of 14.50 crowns to the US dollar, due to the same type of speculative buying an analyst for Patria Finance told AFP. According to sources, the crown could stabilise at around the 23 crowns to the euro. Czech exporters have warned that the continuing rise of the crown will undermine the economy's still solid growth but recent trade figures have suggested that sales abroad are still bearing up.
A proposal to open the path for direct presidential elections, submitted by independent senator Jan Horník, has passed in a first reading in the upper house. All but two senators present voted for Mr Horník's proposal. The issue will further be debated by senate committees in the autumn. The government bill on direct presidential elections is being worked out at the initiative of the Greens but so far the three coalition parties are not united in proposed changes. While the Christian Democrats want to preserve current presidential powers, the Civic Democrats are said to be in favour of extending them. Public surveys have repeatedly suggested that many among the public are in favour of changing the system. Currently, the country’s president is elected in a special joint session of both houses of parliament.
Czech Ambassador to NATO Stefan Fuele told reporters after visiting the Missile Defense Integration and Operations Center (MDIOC) at the Schriever air force base, Colorado Springs, on Thursday that it is likely the Czech Republic will have its own representative at the site in connection with a planned US radar base on Czech soil. Mr Fuele visited the site along with Czech Defence Minister Vlasta Parkánová and the army chief-of-staff Vlastimil Picek. The US centre is to assess information on the radar base to be built roughly 70 kilometres southwest of the Czech capital. The centre's employees are said to be testing model simulations of the missile defence system; Mr Fuele made clear it was in Czech interest to have a representative on site. The US radar base in the Czech Republic is aimed to complement a missile base in Poland as part of the US defence shield.
A verdict fro earlier this year acquitting former government official Zdeněk Doležal of attempted fraud in connection with the sale of the Unipetrol petrochemical company, has been annulled by the Prague high court. An official made the announcement on Friday. The decision means the municipal court will have to again deal with the case. Mr Doležal was suspected of asking for a 5-million-crown bribe from a Polish lobbyist in 2005 in connection with Unipetrol’s privatisation. Several of their meetings were recorded by a hidden TV camera. The earlier acquittal was based on the grounds that money was never actually mentioned in the recordings and that the TV material was poor quality and had been edited. Mr Doležal was thought to have used coded language to ask for the bribe, asking for “five on the table” – a possible veiled reference to 5 million crowns.
In related news, the foreign ministry said on Friday that the Czech government will ask parliament to vote on the Lisbon Treaty following regional elections in October. The treaty must be approved by all EU member states to take effect. Following the Irish referendum, ratification in the Czech Republic has been questioned. Friday’s Právo quotes Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg as saying he and Prime Minister Topolánek and the Minister for EU Affairs Alexandr Vondra had agreed to submit the treaty to the vote soon after the fall elections, set for October 17-18. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zuzana Opletalová confirmed the agreement but specified the vote could take place closer towards the end of the year. The Czech Republic’s parliament had launched ratification moves earlier but the process stalled in April when the Senate referred the treaty to the country's top court, to rule whether or not the document is in line with the constitution.
The Czech daily Mladá fronta Dnes has reported that the Greens’ deputy chairwoman Dana Kuchtová will challenge the party’s leader Martin Bursík for the Greens’ leadership. The Greens are to hold an extraordinary party conference in September, ahead of regional elections, with Mr Bursík aiming to unite the party on a number of key issues. Mrs Kuchtová has not officially announced her decision yet. Sources say that she could have the backing of a number of regions if she runs. Dana Kuchtová, the former education minister, has been at odds with party leader Martin Bursík for some time; on Thursday he specified unhappiness over her staying on as deputy chair, a matter he wanted to see resolved in September.
The government’s overhaul of the country’s public services took another step forward on Thursday, when the Senate approved key pension and health insurance reforms. The pension bill will raise the age of retirement to 65 years for men and women by 2030, from around 62 and 59 now. It will also extend the minimum required working period to 35 years, from 25. The health insurance bill is aimed at cutting one of Europe’s highest absentee rates by drastically cutting sick pay for the first three days of illness.
It has been revealed that Polish President Lech Kaczyinski will pay a working visit to Prague next week. The details of the visit are not yet known, but the Polish head-of-state is likely to meet with Czech President Václav Klaus in Lány to discuss a number of key issues, including the future of the European Union and the stalled Lisbon Treaty. After meeting with French President Nicholas Sarkozy recently, there are indications Mr Kaczyinski may try to persuade the Czech president to change his stance towards EU reform. Václav Klaus has repeatedly expressed a negative position on the Lisbon Treaty, especially after its rejection by Irish voters in a recent referendum. The treaty is aimed at reforming the functioning of the 27-member union. The Czech Republic will take up the EU’s rotating six-month presidency on January 1.
The Canadian Minister for Citizenship and Immigration has said that the Czech Republic and Canada must work together to lower the number of Czechs seeking asylum in Canada. Speaking in Prague on Thursday, Diane Finley said that for the time being Canada was not planning to reintroduce visa restrictions for Czechs traveling to the North American country. The Canadian press has suggested, however, that once the number of Czech asylum requests reaches 580, Ottawa will consider visa reintroduction. The number of Czechs thought to have applied for asylum in Canada since visa restrictions were lifted last November is currently put at around 500. Not one of the recent Czech emigrants has been granted asylum, Ms Finley said.
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