Fire-fighters Thursday night dealt with an apparent arson attack on a restaurant in Prague’s Vinohrady district. Around 20 people had to be evacuated as flames threatened surrounding apartments and tram traffic on Korunní Street was stopped for a time. Damages are estimated at half a million crowns. The restaurant was closed at the time of the fire
Romanian Roma camping by a lakeside near Prague for the last week have moved to a tract of land offered them by a private owner. The invitation ends a rather tense dispute between the campers, of whom there were originally about 150, and the local municipal office, which has been protesting their stay in an area that is a natural reserve and their mistreatment of the grounds. The group, which now numbers 30, came to Prague from Romania one week ago to support a young relative they call their prince, who nearly drowned while swimming in the Czech Republic. The 17-year-old remains in hospital in critical condition.
The Czech Republic and Poland have agreed to integrate their visa desks at certain consulates outside Europe in order to cut expenses. The foreign ministers of the two countries met Thursday to discuss the arrangement. While the countries will maintain their respective ambassadors in the nations in question, the Czech embassy in Poland said that in practice one ambassador may assume the duties of the other. Austria and Hungary employ a similar system at embassies in certain small countries.
The Prague Stock Exchange reported its best July on record, with Czech shares up 18.66% to 1065.8 points according to the exchange’s primary index, the PX. According to experts, the speedy rise can be put down primarily to investors taking advantage of a jittery and pessimistic mood on the markets. The strongest growth in July could be seen in shares of the coal mining company New World Resources, up 31.9%. The largest company on the market, the ČEZ Group, was up 15.9% to 966 crowns.
Newspaper photographs of top Czech politicians sharing a yacht in Italy with energy lobbyists are causing a stir in the Czech Republic. Among those featured on the photographs are former Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek, CEO of the energy company ČEZ Martin Roman, and Social Democratic MP Milan Urban. Czech media outlets, aside from speculating on who is most likely to benefit from the rather expensive detective work, have also made frequent reference to the recent passage of a carbon emissions deal in parliament that resulted in a multi-billion-crown windfall for the energy giant, ČEZ. A number of those featured on the photographs have said the meeting was a chance encounter in a popular holiday area. Compounding the discussion around the photographs is the fact that they were released by Karel Randák, the erstwhile chief of the Czech civilian intelligence agency. Mr Randák has declined to shed more light on the procurement of the photos, saying only that no intelligence agents were involved, and that his decision to release them was taken in order to “show how things work in this country.” Mr Randák was dismissed from his position in 2006 by Mr Topolánek’s government.
Prosecutors seeking the indictment of Euro MP Miloslav Ransdorf have dropped their charges due the politician’s new immunity as a member of the European Parliament. Mr Ransdorf was charged with grievous bodily harm arising from negligence after he hit a pedestrian while driving in 2007. The European Parliament revoked Mr Ransdorf’s immunity in February, however police did not receive the documentation from Brussels until July, by which time the Communist Party politician had already been re-elected.
The primary east-west thoroughfare in the Czech Republic, the D1 motorway, is to be closed for more than 24 hours during the visit of Pope Benedict XVI. The Ministry of Transportation said Thursday that during that time, from September 26 to 27, the motorway is to serve as a car park for the more than 2,000 buses expected to bring up to 150,000 people to Brno for the pope’s mass. The ministry is working with police to prepare detours.
The American State Department has said that the U.S. is considering alternative locations outside the Czech Republic and Poland for the potential construction of part of its missile defence system. At a hearing on US-Russian relations, Assistant Secretary of State Alexander Vershbow told the House of Representatives that the Czech Republic and Poland are not the only places where the mission could be performed. The construction of an American radar base in Bohemia has been one of the hottest issues in the Czech Republic in recent years, with polls suggesting most Czechs are opposed. Russia has also expressed intense opposition to the plan. The Obama White House has put the plan on hold while it is reassessed by his administration.
Police in Hungary have arrested a Czech man they accuse of helping a group of Serbian nationals to enter France illegally. The Hungarian news agency MTI reported that five of the eight Serbians were children. The Hungarian/Serbian border is a frequent target for people trying to enter the EU illegally. On the same day border guards arrested one Serb attempting to take five Albanians, including two children, to Italy, and 995 individuals have been arrested for the same offence so far this year – almost as many as for the whole of 2008.
Police have begun an investigation into the closure of the travel agency Tomi Tour, which declared bankruptcy in mid-July leaving some 3,400 clients temporarily stranded abroad. The Prague police department stated on Thursday that the investigation is responding to allegations that the company continued to take money from its clients and partners even after it was clear no more trips would be organised. Tomi Tour’s business director, former senator Václav Fischer, has said that no crime has been committed by anyone involved in the agency.