Twenty-three political groups will be competing for support in October’s elections to the lower house, the CTK agency said on Wednesday. The deadline for candidates to register passed on the afternoon of August 26. The latest total is a decline on the 26 groups which fought the last lower house elections in 2006. As well as the traditional main parties, one of the more significant newcomers is the recently created TOP 09 party headed by former foreign minister Karel Schwarzenberg.
Czech health and interior ministries are fighting over whether all national and top local politicians are vaccinated against swine flu, according to the Czech press. The Ministry of Interior has advanced plans that all members of the government and parliament as well as top regional and local politicians are vaccinated, according to Wednesday’s edition of Mladá fronta dnes. The Ministry of Health says it is only considering vaccinations for a handful of ministers playing a central role in a possible health crisis. The government agreed last week to buy enough vaccine for half a million people with the main target of protecting health service staff.
State-controlled carrier, Czech Airlines, warned on Wednesday that it is fighting for its very survival. Company president Radomír Lašák said in a press conference that unlike rivals, the airline has no cash reserves to cushion it from the current crisis hitting airlines worldwide. A 10 percent drop in passengers and similar fall in ticket prices has racked up a 1.8 billion crown, around 100 million dollars, loss for the airline in the first six months. It had planned for a loss of just 300 million crowns for the whole year. Mr Lašák outlined a three point programme to save the airline later in the day based upon a 30 percent cut in pilots’ pay, 15 percent wage cuts for other employees and a freeze on other benefits. If unions agreed to the deal then the current board would be willing to step down, he added.
Czech football star Pavel Nedvěd confirmed on Wednesday that his playing career is definitely over. The midfielder — who will be 37 at the end of this month — announced on his official website that he had turned down all the offers made to him in recent weeks to continue playing. He said he will devote himself to his family. The European player of the year in 2003 ended his career with top Italian club Juventus as the end of last season. He later, however, held out the possibility that he could continue playing outside Europe.
An independent MP has lodged a challenge with the Constitutional Court against the holding of early elections on October 9 and 10. The Constitutional Court on Wednesday confirmed the complaint by non-aligned lower house MP Miloš Melčak against the law shortening the current parliament’s mandate and president’s decision to call early elections. Its spokesman refused to give further details before Thursday with Mr Melčak also refusing to elaborate. The two main political parties and Greens agreed to create a caretaker government pending early elections to the lower house following the no-confidence vote in former prime minister Mirek Topolánek’s government at the end of March. Mr Melčak was elected for the left-wing Social Democrats but switched his support to help pave the way for Mr Topolánek centre-right coalition. Constitutional experts said the complaint stands little chance of derailing the elections.
Czech ombudsman Otakar Motejl has expressed misgivings about fresh attempts by the northern town of Chomutov to reclaim debts. The town embarked on a fresh attempt to gather debts this week by sending in the bailiffs. Mr Motejl warned that the value of property seized should be in line with debts and pointed out that complaints indicate this has not always been the case. Some debtors have said that computers, televisions and hi-fi systems were seized because of debts of a few hundred crowns. Town mayor and Civic Democrat candidate in upcoming general elections, Ivana Řápková, already courted controversy earlier this year with her tough line to recover more than 240 million crowns in unpaid debts to the town hall. Initial measures included fines and intercepting benefit payments with some of the measures ruled illegal.
Around half of the estimated 1,000 currently operating Czech travel agencies will cease over the next three to five years according to a forecast by specialist travel business agency, Mag Consulting. It predicts that competition on the local market will get a lot tougher with large, established European travel firms entering the market. Four Czech travel agencies have collapsed this year, including one of the biggest, Tomi Tour.
The caretaker government of Prime Minister Jan Fischer announced Wednesday that it had agreed changes relaxing the scope of the so-called “muzzle law.” The sweeping law, which came into force in April, threatens journalists and media companies with prison sentences of up to five years or heavy fines if they reveal information about individuals involved in criminal investigations. The new law was described as an attack on media freedom by international media watchdogs. An amendment put to the cabinet by human rights minister, Michael Kocáb, would introduce a public interest defence for releasing information. The amendment could take effect from January 1, 2010, if it is backed by parliament.
In related news, the head of a pilots’ union at Czech Airlines has been reprimanded by company management for allegedly leaking internal information to the media. The airline said CZALPA union head Filip Gaspar had broken internal rules by leaking confidential and secret information. A statement from the union protested that he had merely commented on articles concerning safety and the threat of mass lay-offs. Mr Gaspar said the airline’s management is attempting to curb criticism from the unions.
Confidence in the Czech economy fell slightly in August, the Czech Statistical Office said on Tuesday. Overall confidence was down by 0.8 points on July’s figures, statisticians said. Consumer confidence, however, was up by 0.7 points. The fall was attributed mainly to a drop in business confidence of 1.2 points. In comparison with the same time last year, overall confidence is down by a massive 22.8 points. According to the Statistical Office, the majority of those polled said they expected a slight economic upturn in the coming twelve months, but the number of respondents expecting a rise in unemployment also rose in August’s poll.
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