The National Security Office has fined the Foreign Ministry over the leak of alleged recordings of talks between Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek and French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris last October, the head of the office Dušan Navrátil told Czech Radio on Monday. The office imposed a 77,000 crown fine on the ministry. At the meeting Prime Minister Topolánek and President Sarkozy discussed delicate foreign political issues and the handing over of the EU presidency from Paris to Prague. The Czech Embassy in France, did not mark the recordings of the talks as “not destined for publication” though it should have done so, Navrátil told Czech Radio.
The Czech government has announced measures to cope with the impact of the global financial crisis on the Czech economy. Speaking after a late night session with members of the National Economic Council, a group of leading economic experts who are to advise the cabinet in crisis management, Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek said the government’s crisis plan would be aimed at creating new job opportunities as well as boosting investment in research, education and infrastructure. The finance minister said the plan would include both legislative and executive measures and would almost double the country’s budget deficit. Revised figures forsee a growth of only 1.4 percent in 2009, down from the 5 percent predicted earlier.
Ten police officers are standing trial in one of the biggest-ever corruption cases involving the Czech police force. The traffic officers in question made money on the side by pocketing fines and not writing out receipts, or by demanding bigger sums for serious transgressions. The suspects allegedly not only covered for each other, but demanded more money from drivers on the argument their colleagues needed to be paid off as well. The affair came to light after a driver complained to the officers’ superiors - who had their police cars bugged. If found guilty, the suspects could each face up to five years in prison.
Chairing a meeting of EU foreign ministers on Monday, the Czech foreign minister Karel Schwarzenberg, said it would be up to each member state to decide whether or not it would help the Obama administration by taking in prisoners from Guantanamo prison. Although the EU has welcomed President Barack Obama’s decision to close the prison within a year, EU members are divided on whether they would be ready to accept former inmates. The Netherlands and Austria have said they are not ready to do so, citing tricky legal issues, while the German government is split on the issue. The Czech foreign minister said Prague would deal with the matter if and when it was asked by the US administration.
The police are investigating the death of a woman whose nine-year-old son was sexually abused, tortured and killed by a Slovak pedophile in May of last year. His body was found four weeks later. The boy’s mother had reportedly been seeing a psychiatrist but family and friends said she had been unable to cope with the tragedy. She was found dead in her flat on Sunday by her brother who came to check up on her. There was a slight wound on her head, but otherwise no signs of violence. The police are waiting for the results of an autopsy.
The health of the former Czech president Václav Havel continues to improve and his physicians at Motol Hospital say that he may be released at the weekend. The former president has spent a fortnight in hospital after complications appeared following minor throat surgery, which resulted in an inflammation of his right lung. He was treated with antibiotics, made to do breathing exercises and loco-motor rehabilitation. Doctors say he is now breathing without a mask and feels much stronger. Despite the progress his release is uncertain since his health remains frail and doctors are concerned about the ongoing flu epidemic.
In connection with the crisis, the Czech Interior Ministry has drafted a plan to help send foreigners who have lost their jobs back to their home country. The ministry says it is willing to cover their travel expenses and give them an additional 500 euros for a voluntary return since it fears that if left to fend for themselves 15 percent would be sucked into the underworld and 80 percent would find work on the black market. The first to have been affected by the crisis are Vietnamese and Mongolian workers. The ministry’s proposal reckons with the departure of about 2,000 foreign workers and if approved by the government would require 55 million crowns of state funds.
The Czech army is looking to recruit over 1,000 young people in 2009. Adds have appeared in several national dailies stating what professions the military is specifically interested in. The three-phase recruitment campaign will target both Prague and the regions and the army believes that the financial crisis is likely to play in its favour, since many young people can be expected to loose their jobs. Over 4,600 employees left the military in the course of 2008 and interest in working for the armed forces seems to be waning.
The Deputy prime minister for European Affairs Alexandr Vondra has allowed that cooperation with Russia on the US missile defence system is a possibility, but he stressed that Moscow should not have the right to veto where NATO security matters are concerned. Mr Vondra made the comments on commercial broadcaster TV Prima on Sunday. US and Czech officials have signed treaties on the deployment of a US radar base to the Czech Republic as part of the US defense system, but these have not been ratified by Parliament yet. On Sunday Mr Vondra said that, regarding missile defense, he expected the new US administration under President Obama would place greater emphasis on dialogue not only in NATO but also with the Russian federation.
Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek has made clear that the state budget deficit for 2009 could practically double as a result of the economic downturn. On Czech TV’s debate programme Otázky Václava Moravce on Sunday, the minister said that the deficit could go as high as 75 billion crowns (the equivalent of around 3.5 billion US dollars). According to Mr Kalousek, the final numbers will depend on the country’s overall economic performance. The state budget, approved in December, had counted on a deficit of 38.1 billion crowns, but the previous number was based on projections the economy would grow by 4.8 percent. Following the increased impact of the global financial crisis, the finance ministry has now estimated that the Czech economy could grow by as little as 1.4 to 1 percent.
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