The head of the Czech army’s Special Operations Group, Petr Krčmář, has been removed from his post alongside two other senior officials, Czech Television reported on Saturday. The unit is currently being investigated by the Czech Defence Ministry, following a series of internal conflicts, Czech Television reported. On Thursday, Jan Čermák, a spokesperson for the Defence Ministry, confirmed that three senior officials from the unit had been transferred to other positions in the army. Czech Television reported on Saturday that the three men concerned were considering leaving the army altogether. The broadcaster said that problems had arisen in the unit following soldiers’ return from Afghanistan, where they were posted for two years until 2008.
Around 150 people were evacuated from a local passenger train in Prague on Sunday after the locomotive caught fire. The fire broke out on České drahy’s Beroun–Prague service at around 16:30 CET. Passengers were evacuated from the train at Prague’s Radotín station and no one was injured, according to České drahy’s spokesperson, Ondřej Kubala. The train was not seriously damaged by the fire and a normal service was quickly resumed on the route, according to Mr Kubala.
The head of the opposition Social Democrats Jiří Paroubek has insisted that his party’s plan for a scrap premium, encouraging Czechs to get rid of their old cars and buy new ones, should be implemented by this autumn. In an interview with TV Prima on Sunday, Mr Paroubek reacted to comments made by outgoing Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek on Saturday, who said that a scrap premium should not be brought into effect this year. Mr Topolánek said that carmakers in this country were already having difficulty meeting demand, which has been stimulated primarily by scrap premiums brought in in neighbouring Germany and Slovakia, and that a Czech scrap subsidy should only be brought in when this demand drops off. But on Sunday, Mr Paroubek said that this was not part of the agreement that the Social Democrats had reached with the outgoing government coalition. The Social Democrats agreed to back a government anti-crisis stimulus package last week, on the condition that a scrap premium was included in the plan.
The leader of the opposition Social Democrats has reacted to comments published in this week’s edition of The Economist, accusing Czech politicians of ‘parochial myopia’ for topping the government halfway through the country’s EU presidency. Jiří Paroubek, whose Social Democrats instigated the no-confidence vote, said that the magazine was ignoring the ‘moral’ side of the issue. Speaking on TV Prima on Sunday, Mr Paroubek said that Mirek Topolánek’s outgoing cabinet was founded on a basis of ‘political corruption’ and that the prime minister and his government had attempted to interfere in the justice system and this country’s media. A caretaker government, headed by the non-partisan Jan Fischer, will take over the country’s EU presidency formally on May 9. In this week’s Charlemagne column, The Economist said that a Czech government of ‘technocrats’ would ‘leave the presidency politically dead’.
A woman died in Kladno on Saturday when the vehicle she was driving collided with a police car. The police car in question had its siren on, and ran a red light. The 37-year-old woman died immediately when her car was hit in the middle of a crossroads by the police vehicle. A local police spokesperson said that an enquiry would be carried out to find out who was at fault. Spokeswoman Jana Dětská added that she did not know where the police car was speeding to with its siren on. The three police officers in the vehicle at the time were treated for minor injuries.
In the same interview with TV Prima, Jiří Paroubek said that if his Social Democrats won early elections, to be held this October, then they would consider building late architect Jan Kaplický’s controversial National Library building. The structure, nicknamed ‘the blob’, won an international competition two years ago, but construction of the building was then blocked by Prague City Hall after President Vaclav Klaus voiced his objections to the design. On Sunday, Mr Paroubek said that the Social Democrats would consider building the library near Prague’s Ruzyně Airport, though he conceded that this location was not ideal for the structure. The leader of the Social Democrats added that the construction of the library would be subject to a legal review and several alterations in design. After architect Jan Kaplický died this January, thousands signed a petition to have his National Library building built.
In related news, around 30 members of the Czech army’s Second Contingent returned to Prague from Afghanistan on Saturday after three months in the country’s Uruzgan province. The soldiers were posted to the Central-Asian state to guard the Dutch-run Hadrian base. The Czech troops have now been replaced by Slovak counterparts. On Saturday, a number of Czech pilots and engineers also returned from Afghanistan, where they had been training local troops to pilot and maintain Mi-17 and Mi-24 helicopters. The soldiers will undergo health check-ups over the next couple of days, and be able to return to their families on Monday, an army spokesperson said.
The head of the Czech Catholic Church, Cardinal Miloslav Vlk, served Easter mass in Prague’s Saint Vitus Cathedral this Sunday, addressing those assembled in Czech, Italian, French, English and German. In his sermon, Cardinal Vlk reminded the congregation that Easter was a time of hope, and called the festival the incarnation of God’s hopes for mankind. This Sunday’s mass is thought to be Cardinal Vlk’s last Easter service at Saint Vitus Cathedral. The head of the Czech Catholic Church has suggested that he plans to retire at the end of this year. In 2007, he underwent heart surgery, and after collapsing from exhaustion in 2008, he announced that he planned to retire by 2010.
Five units of firefighters were called to battle a forest fire near Máchovo jezero in north Bohemia on Saturday evening. The fire covered an area spanning 4.5 hectares, and due to difficult conditions, the emergency services employed special helicopters to extinguish the blaze. A spokesperson for the regional fire brigade said that it was too early to calculate the cost of the damage caused, and said that the causes of the fire would be investigated. According to firefighters, the lack of rain in the region for several weeks meant that the forest floor was bone dry, and created the ideal conditions for the fire to spread.
Speaking to TV Prima on Sunday, Social Democrat leader Jiří Paroubek confirmed that his party would nominate Jan Kohout for the post of foreign minister in the interim government which will take over the country on May 9. Mr Kohout was the Czech ambassador to the EU until 2008. After the government was toppled in a no-confidence vote at the end of March, the outgoing coalition and opposition Social Democrats agreed to form a caretaker government of experts to tide the country to early elections in October. Head of the Czech Statistical Office Jan Fischer was officially appointed head of this government by President Vaclav Klaus on April 9. He has yet to disclose who will form his cabinet. The outgoing coalition will nominate eight ministers, while the Social Democrats will propose seven, including foreign minister and deputy prime minister for European affairs.
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