Czech national debt rose in 2008 by more than 107 billion crowns to nearly one trillion crowns (49 billion USD), the Finance Ministry announced on Monday. Czech loans from European investment banks and the deficit in last year’s budget were the biggest factors contributing to the level of debt. The Finance Ministry has said that this year it would like to borrow at most 148 billion crowns (7.2 billion USD) from outside sources. The ministry expects that national debt will in 2009 cross the one-trillion crown mark.
Over 700 foreigners have so far made use of the Czech government’s scheme to repatriate those recently made redundant, an official from the Interior Ministry has said. According to Hana Malá, some 550 Mongolians have applied for a free air-ticket home and 500-euro cash payment, which the government has been offering jobless foreigners since February. The second largest group of foreign workers to make use of the scheme are those from Uzbekistan, Ms Malá said. Some 37 Vietnamese nationals have also applied to be sent home. The Czech government would like to repatriate 2,000 workers who have recently been made redundant over the next seven months. It has set aside some 60.7 million crowns (2.6 million USD) in a bid to encourage unemployed foreigners to return home.
A second Prague restaurant has received a prestigious Michelin star, it was announced on Monday. The Four Seasons Hotel’s Allegro restaurant maintained the Michelin star it was awarded last year, and was joined by Maze, which was set up by celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay just over a year ago. Ramsay has just announced, however, that he is pulling out of the Prague venture, which is housed in the capital’s Hilton Old Town Hotel. Two other Prague restaurants were said to be in contention for a Michelin star, but both Aromi and La Degustation Boheme Bourgeoise came away empty handed on Monday. The Michelin restaurant guide will be officially released on Wednesday.
Israeli President Shimon Peres is to visit Prague, the Czech Press Agency reported on Monday. Mr Peres is expected to visit the Czech capital between March 30 and April 1. A spokesperson for Czech President Vaclav Klaus, however, would not confirm that the Israeli head of state had accepted Prague Castle’s invitation. It was reported that Mr Peres would most likely meet Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek and Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg during a state visit to the Czech Republic, as well as visiting the former concentration camp Terezín and Prague’s Jewish Cemetery.
The Chairman of the Supreme Court Josef Baxa said on Monday that his institution ruled against banning the far-right Workers’ Party earlier this month solely because the government did not provide sufficient evidence for the court to decide otherwise. On Sunday, Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek criticized the Supreme Court for not outlawing the extremist party, saying that it sent out ‘a negative message’. But on Monday, Mr Baxa responded that the case the government put forward for the banning of the Workers’ Party was ‘weak’. Mr Baxa said that the court’s decision was in no way political and that the court made the decision based solely upon the facts provided.
The Czech government has approved a crisis package to help the country’s healthcare system. Health insurance companies had predicted that they would end this year with a deficit of 8 billion crowns (390 million USD). But on Monday, the government voted to increase the state’s payments to healthcare companies for children, students and pensioners. Health Minister Daniela Filipiová said that the package would pour some 7.8 billion crowns into the healthcare system by 2010. She added that the package had been unanimously approved. Ms Filipiová said that due to Czech health insurance companies’ financial reserves, the standard of healthcare in the Czech Republic had not so far been jeopardised.
The Czech national air carrier ČSA is to lend two of its airplanes to Libyan firm Nayzak Air Transport in a deal worth hundreds of millions of crowns, a spokesperson for ČSA said on Monday. The Czech firm will lend two Boeing 737s plus pilots and crew to the Libyan carrier until next May. The aircraft will fly on mostly internal routes, but will also join Tripoli with several Egyptian destinations. ČSA said that it was lending a portion of its fleet out to other airlines as the current financial climate had led to a fall in passenger numbers. The Czech national carrier has a total of 51 aircraft in its fleet.
Czech and other farmers from new EU member states will have to wait until 2013 with lower subsidies compared with counterparts from older members, Commissioner for Agriculture Mariann Fischer-Boel has said in an interview in Monday’s Hospodářské noviny. She said she did not think a change before that date was possible. The subsidy differential was one of the main reasons for a massive protest by around 8,000 farmers in Prague on Thursday. The farmers want a faster change in agricultural payment rules so they can catch up sooner with subsidies in older member states.
Meanwhile, a Vietnamese national who protested against deportation by going on a hunger strike has been flown back to Hanoi, a spokesperson for the Czech Foreigners’ Police said on Monday. Le Kim Thanh was arrested in October for not having the appropriate documentation to work in the Czech Republic. The reason he didn’t have the correct papers was because his employer had made a mistake. A number of Czech NGOs and the Minister for Human Rights and Minorities Michael Kocáb have come out in defence of Mr Thanh, saying that the way he has been treated is extremely harsh given the circumstances. The Foreigners’ Police responded to the criticism by shortening the time Mr Thanh is barred from the Czech Republic from five years to one year.
The Supreme State Attorney Renata Vesecká has said that it was a mistake for her to sue Shadow Justice Minister Marie Benešová. Ms Benešová criticized Ms Vesecká for her role in the trial of former deputy prime minister Jiří Čunek, who was cleared of corruption charges in 2007. Ms Benešová criticised Ms Vesecká’s intervention in the case, and called the attorney the head of a ‘justice mafia’. Ms Vesecká subsequently took the shadow justice minister to court, but lost the case. On Monday, Ms Vesecká said she now regretted the lawsuit but still believed she was right to react to Ms Benešová’s comments. The supreme state attorney said that she regretted that the public had viewed her as a top judiciary official in the lawsuit, and not as an individual who had been defamed. The Czech Ombudsman Otakar Motejl has since called on Ms Vesecká to resign, as has the head of the country’s Constitutional Court Pavel Rychetský.
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