The Social Democrats have pledged to fight the economic crisis by boosting infrastructure and social spending if they take power after this October’s general elections, the party said after a pre-election conference on Saturday. In their platform for this autumn’s elections, the Social Democrats said they would push for a stimulus package worth 1-1.5 percent of GDP with the aim of creating 100,000 jobs. The party said it would pay for the higher spending by scrapping a flat personal income tax and tapping the profits of state-owned firms, such as energy giant ČEZ. The Civic Democrats respond that the Social Democrats’ plans for higher spending are fiscally irresponsible.
Cardinal Jozef Tomko celebrated a special mass this Sunday to mark the saint’s day of missionaries Cyril and Methodius. The mass was attended by some 30,000 people in Velehrad, an important pilgrimage site in south Moravia. The mass took place in the middle of the town’s ‘Days of Goodwill’ festival, which has so far this year raised over 1.3 million crowns (70,000 USD) for various charities. One fourth of the total sum raised will go towards helping the victims of the Czech Republic’s recent floods, while a hospice in Čerčany and a youth centre in Ostrava will also receive a portion of the money raised.
More flash floods struck the Czech Republic on Saturday evening, this time in north Bohemia. Families were evacuated from their homes in Markvartice, Kunratice and Benešov nad Ploučnice. As water levels fell on Sunday morning, local authorities started to calculate the damage done, which is thought to run into millions of crowns. Local politicians said that the floods could not be compared with those which hit other Czech regions just over a week ago, leaving 14 dead and leading to a state of emergency being declared. No houses will have to be knocked down as a result of these latest floods, though roads remain blocked and inhabitants of the areas affected remain displaced.
A Czech diver drowned in Upper Austria on Saturday, the Austrian Press Agency has reported. The Czech Foreign Ministry has confirmed that a Czech man drowned when diving in Vorderer Gosausee Lake on Saturday, but added that it had no further details about the accident. It is thought the man could have been using the wrong oxygen mix for the depth he was diving at, though investigators are yet to confirm this theory. The man was diving with two other Czechs, both of whom had no problems. Last year, two divers drowned in this particular Austrian lake.
There are currently 22,000 prisoners in the Czech Republic, the country’s Prison Service said on Sunday, adding that this number was up by around 1,800 on the previous year’s figures. This means that Czech prisons are at their fullest since 2000. According to Robert Blanda of the Prison Service, the majority of Czech jails are filled to 115 percent capacity, while some institutions are even complaining of being 130 percent full. According to Mr Blanda, despite the growing number of inmates in Czech jails, the same number of warders are being employed in Czech prisons, which is causing problems. The spokesperson added that in light of the current financial downturn, it was most unlikely that any new prison facilities would be built in the coming months.
Senior representatives of the main Czech political parties have spoken out against Canada’s reported intention to reintroduce visa restrictions for Czechs. On Friday, Czech Television broadcast a report claiming that Canada had already decided to reimplement visas for Czechs and would make the announcement publicly on Tuesday. On Saturday, head of the Czech Social Democrats, Jiří Paroubek, called the move ‘scandalous’, while Christian Democrat leader Cyril Svoboda described the step as ‘unacceptable’. Ottawa is thought to want to reintroduce visas due to the high number of asylum claims it has been receiving, predominantly from members of the Czech Republic’s Romany community. In the first four months of this year alone, some 1,077 Czechs applied for asylum in Canada. On Saturday, the head of the Czech Communist Party, Vojtěch Filip, voiced his ‘sadness’ at Canada’s alleged intention, while deputy head of the Civic Democrats, Petr Nečas, said that such a move ‘unfriendly and unaccommodating’.
Some 22,000 festival-goers watched the Arctic Monkeys, Hadouken and The Freestylers perform at the 15th Rock for People festival in Hradec Kralové on Saturday night. The three-day festival closes on Sunday with performances from Divoký Bill, Horkýže slíže, Tata Bojs and British band The Kooks. Wet weather disrupted the beginning of the festival on Friday, with several festival tents flooded after heavy storms.
The Czech state received some 146.6 billion crowns (7.9 billion USD) in social insurance payments in the first five months of this year, a figure down by 8.2 billion crowns on that of the previous year. The spokesperson of the Czech Social Security Authority, Kamil Vařeka, said this drop in revenue was most likely down to the current financial downturn. The amount generated by social insurance payments is not set to grow in the coming months as new legislation, which still needs to be signed by President Vaclav Klaus, most likely comes into effect, cutting the amount that employers have to pay in social insurance payments for each of their employees. The bill is a bid to stop lay-offs in the current financial crisis. Social insurance revenues are also thought to be down due to rising unemployment in the Czech Republic.
In related news, Czech Finance Minister Eduard Janota has said he expects this year’s budget deficit to grow due to the floods to somewhere between 160-170 billion crowns (8.6-9.2 billion USD). Mr Janota made the statement in an interview with Czech Television on Sunday. The recent floods to have affected north Moravia, south Bohemia and, on Saturday, north Bohemia, are thought to have caused 7 billion crowns’ worth of damage. Allocating funds for the regeneration of the regions worst affected will be decided upon by early August at the latest, said the finance minister on Sunday. Mr Janota added that, at the moment, repairing the damage caused by the floods was the government’s top priority.
On Friday, the Social Democrats, Christian Democrats and Communists spoke out against the government’s plans to cut the Czech Academy of Sciences’ funding by up to 50 percent over the next three years. After a meeting of the Social Democrats’ party leadership on Friday evening, Shadow Education Minister Jiří Havel called the proposals ‘unacceptable’. Head of the Christian Democrats Cyril Svoboda meanwhile said that the government could afford to continue funding the Academy of Sciences, and called upon the cabinet to do so. Jan Fischer’s government wants to cut universities’ funding by more than 1 billion crowns (nearly 54 million USD) this year, and by more than half to 2.8 billion crowns (151 million USD) by 2012. On Friday, the government’s plans were praised by the Czech Chamber of Commerce, who called researchers and academics to work in closer cooperation with industry in the Czech Republic.
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