The heads of parliament from 11 countries in Central and Eastern Europe are set to meet in Prague at the weekend to discuss possibilities to form joint positions on European Commission proposals. It is the first such meeting of its kind and will be held in the Czech senate. Both Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek and the Minister for European Affairs Alexandr Vondra are expected to attend. The head of the Czech senate, Přemysl Sobotka, has suggested that representatives will try to find similar standpoints on issues to be able to push their agenda more effectively at the European level. In the past, closer regional cooperation has been established, for example, through the Visegrad Four, made up of Slovakia, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic.
The opposition has pushed a proposal - aimed at abolishing mandatory health care fees for pensioners and others - through a first reading in the lower house. If passed, the bill will exempt pensioners but also those under the age of 18, as well as some low-income earners. That would mean two-fifths of the population would not have to pay fees which include 30 crowns for each visit to the doctor’s or 60 crowns per day spent in hospital. Some 2 million seniors and roughly the same number of minors would be affected. Exemptions have already been made in some cases, including that of newborns and organ donors. Friday’s bill passed somewhat surprisingly in its first reading with help from coalition MPs Ludvík Hovorka, of the Christian Democrats, and Olga Zubová of the Greens.
The police have accused an employee of Czech Post allegedly stealing more than 60,000 letters between the years 2001 to 2006: the items were found in a tunnel at a railway station in Břeclav this spring. He allegedly stole 71 bags full of undelivered letters sent from abroad, making use of postage stamps as well as valuable enclosed items, including cash. The perpetrator reportedly hid the sacks in a lift well in a post tunnel where workers found them by chance in March. Czech Post suffered damages of at least 11,000 crowns through the loss. The post is now trying to deliver some of the material. If found guilty, the 44-year-old suspect faces up to two years in prison.
The Education Minister Ondřej Liška has suggested that a final decision on a US radar base’s being deployed to the Czech Republic, should only be taken after a NATO summit next spring. Speaking to ČTK (the Czech news agency) on Friday, Mr Liška said the summit would be the first opportunity to decide on integration of the US missile defence system within NATO structures. He made clear that ratification on the deal agreed by Prague and Washington should go ahead in first readings in Parliament, but suggested the final vote could be postponed. Mr Liška has said in the past that he will only back the radar proposal - part of broader US missile defence plans in Europe - if it is integrated within the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.
Czech hockey star Jaromír Jágr set a new personal record for fastest scored goal. In action in the Continental League he scored just 31 seconds into the first period against Khabarovsk. He broke a league record set earlier in the week by seven seconds. Jágr’s Avangard Omsk went on to win the game by 4:0.
The opposition Communist Party has failed to push through a bill introducing property declaration statements for a segment of the population with property worth more than 10 million crowns. The step was proposed in order to try and reduce tax evasion, but was opposed by all the government MPs. It is the second time in as many years that the Communists have failed to push through such legislation. Along with the coalition MPs, five out of six independent deputies also voted against. In the past, the government blocked the Communist Party’s proposals on the grounds that existing legislation was sufficient in fighting tax evasion. The latest bill was also criticised for applying only to individuals.
The Prague Municipal Court has sentenced former policeman Milan Pavlis to ten years in prison for the fatal stabbing of a US citizen in Prague earlier this year. The incident took place on January 30. The victim, 44-year-old Mike Murray of the US, was spending the night in a parked vehicle near Prague’s Sazka stadium, when he and his assailant, an officer with the municipal police at the time, became involved in a fracas that was witnessed by nearby residents. The officer stabbed Mr Murray three times, once in the chest. Investigators found the suspect had been drinking heavily. Mr Pavlis, meanwhile, can still appeal the ruling.
The number of wanted individuals or missing persons successfully found by the Czech police has risen markedly since the Czech Republic joined the Schengen Information System (or SIS) one year ago. A police official from a police section cooperating with Europol and Interpol made the announcement. Through use of the system, the police detained 292 people wanted by the authorities and found 121 missing in the Czech Republic over the last year. They also dealt with 750 cases of stolen or lost items, including 330 stolen cars, listed in the database. The number of persons found since the beginning of the year is almost double the number in 2007, and is five times higher than in 2006, the official said.
Former Czech prime minister Miloš Zeman says he is returning to public life, but not to politics. Mr Zeman said the difference between the two was that he was not seeking political office. He made the comments in Prague at the opening of the headquarters of a recently formed association named The Friends of Miloš Zeman. A representative said it had around 1,000 members. Despite Mr Zeman’s claim to have no interest in a political post, his close associate Miroslav Šlouf said the association aimed to help the former Social Democrats leader become president, a position he failed to win five years ago. Miloš Zeman was prime minister from 1998 to 2002.
Elsewhere in its 2007 annual report, BIS said mafia groups were using contacts with state authorities, the police, the judiciary and politicians to launder money. The most active gangs involved in this kind of corruption were from Russia, the Caucuses and the Balkans, the report said. The groups have ties to the Czech underworld, as well as specialists such as lawyers and various kinds of advisors. BIS said they were also providing financial backing to some Czech university students in fields which would later lead to jobs in the state administration or the security services.