Czech attitudes towards its EU presidency have hardened following the collapse of the government in March, a survey out on Monday revealed. Fifty-one percent of Czechs taking part in a Factum Invenio survey said they thought the presidency had benefited the country as against 72 percent a month earlier. Around a third said they thought it had damaged the country as against 17 percent in the earlier poll. Pollsters said the fall of the centre-right coalition was responsible for the change in opinion.
Separately, Foreign Minister Kohout has attacked North Korea after it claimed to have successfully tested a nuclear weapon on Monday. In a statement the Czech Foreign Minister said the test threatened stability on the Korean peninsula and international peace and security. The test was a breach of an agreement between North and South Korea and a United Nations resolution, it added. The Czech Republic, which has the rotating presidency of the EU, said the matter should be taken up by the UN’s Security Council.
The Czech caretaker government finalised its policy programme at a meeting on Monday. The statement of priorities - which was not immediately made public - should pave the way for Prime Minister Jan Fischer to ask the lower house for a confidence vote. The government is virtually assured of winning the vote given that the two main political parties played the major role in its creation. The government also backed an amendment to the so-called muzzling law which bans identifying victims or suspects of crime or wire taps without their consent. Three backbenchers have tabled an amendment which would allow information to be released in the public interest.
Confidence in the outlook for the Czech economy rose in May. The latest results make it three months in a row that the economic confidence indicator has climbed. May’s increase was a meagre 0.2 percentage point according to the Czech Statistical Office. Higher confidence was fuelled rising consumer confidence with the business sector still in the dumps. The indicator now stands at 79.2, still not that far from this year’s low of 73.8 points posted in February.
Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kohout has called for the Burmese military regime to immediately release democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The message was delivered to the Burmese Foreign Minister Nyan Win on behalf of the EU at a two-day meeting of South-East Asian states in Hanoi. It also called for the regime to restart talks with the opposition. Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, is currently on trial charged with breaking the conditions of the house arrest which she has suffered for 13 years.
The Czech Republic has confirmed its first case of the H1NI or ‘swine flu’ virus. The country’s chief medical officer Michael Vit said the infected person is a 29-year-old man from Prague who had returned from New York. He is being kept isolated at home. Doctors are examining nine people who have been in close contact with the man. So far they are reported to have no signs of the virus. Around 90 people worldwide have so far died from swine flu since it broke out in Mexico earlier this year.
A survey ahead of June’s European Parliament elections has put the two main Czech political parties head to head in voter support. The survey by Olomouc’s Palacký University shows the right-wing Civic Democrats and left-wing Social Democrats with 29 percent of voter intentions. The Communists come in third with 15 percent and the Christian Democrats with 5.5 percent. The Greens are unlikely to pass the 5.0 percent threshold needed to win any seats, it concludes. Around 40 percent of Czechs have said they intend to take part in the vote on June 5 and 6. Another survey by the CVVM agency put the Civic Democrats ahead with 36.5 percent and the Social Democrats trailing with 28 percent.
The caretaker government of Prime Minister Jan Fischer also agreed public spending limits until 2012. Curbing government spending is one of the government’s biggest priorities. Newly installed Minister of Finance Eduard Janota has already taken a tough line calling for next year’s budget deficit not to exceed 170 billion crowns or 4.7 percent of Gross Domestic Product. The cabinet decided the deficit should fall from 165 billion crowns in 2010 to 160 billion a year later and 156 billion in 2012. The Finance Minister warned that even these levels would distance the country from adopting the single currency euro. For that the budget deficit needs to be below 3.0 percent.
Police in Prague have announced they have arrested 42 members of the extreme right-wing Workers’ Party, including the party’s chairman. The members were arrested in Prague city centre at a demonstration protesting the banning of their election commercials. A demonstration of some 60 people was first broken up by a city official on the grounds of a speech having referred to National Socialism, which is an offence under Czech law. The crowd then planned to march on the Czech Radio building but was barricaded by the police and most were detained for questioning after ignoring orders to disperse. Czech Radio took the decision to ban the Workers’ Party’s pre-election ads last week due to concerns that the ads, which attack the country’s Romani minority, violated hate speech laws.
Clean-up work was being carried out over the weekend following severe lightening and hail storms in the Czech Republic on Friday. Trees were knocked down, train transport was interrupted in some parts of the country as Czech Railways closed 17 lines, and scores of households in the east of the country remain without electricity as of Sunday. Czech fire brigades were called out 400 times between midnight Friday and noon Saturday to deal with problems caused by heavy rain and strong winds. The Czech Press Agency has reported that similar storms are expected for Tuesday.
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