The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance criticized what it called ‘a disturbing intensification’ in right-wing activity in the Czech Republic on Tuesday, including the ‘setting up of a uniformed paramilitary group by one political party’. The commission said that right-wing hate groups in the Czech Republic were predominantly targeting Roma, and that crimes against this minority included a murder in 2007. The report issued by the commission said that repeated demonstrations by extreme right-wing groups were ‘escalating tensions’ and ‘leading to violent acts’. The commission blamed high-ranking politicians and sections of the media in the Czech Republic for fanning discrimination with anti-Roma statements.
Interim Prime Minister Jan Fischer has said that his cabinet is willing to govern the country until regular elections next June only on two conditions. Firstly, Mr Fischer says he wants the lower house to renew his cabinet’s mandate, which was due to last until early elections this October, but which will now have to be extended. Secondly, Mr Fischer has said that his cabinet will resign if MPs do not vote for his package of cost-cutting measures to lower next year’s budget deficit from the predicted 230 billion crowns (13.1 billion USD). Without such measures, Finance Minister Eduard Janota has warned, the Czech Republic will find itself in a dire financial situation. MPs have previously greeted the interim cabinet’s cost-cutting package with a lukewarm response. In an announcement on Tuesday, interim Prime Minister Jan Fischer said he was ‘surprised’ by the Social Democrats’ decision to renege on early elections, and that he would only continue to govern the country should MPs pledge to lower the state deficit to below 170 billion crowns (9.8 billion USD).
A vote on whether the Czech lower house should dissolve itself, paving the way for early elections, was not tabled as expected on Tuesday, after the Social Democrats withdrew support for the motion. The Social Democrats had voted last week for a constitutional amendment, bringing about early elections should the Chamber of Deputies vote to dissolve itself. But in a shock announcement on Tuesday morning, party leader Jiří Paroubek called the dissolution of the lower house ‘too risky’ and said his party now favoured regular elections to be held when lawmakers’ mandates expired next June. Shortly afterwards, Communist deputies said that they would abstain from any vote on the dissolution of Parliament, in effect scuppering the motion entirely. In the end, not enough votes were mustered to have the motion tabled for discussion. It now looks like elections will be held next June, when politicians’ four-year mandates come to an end.
A Prague court has handed two-month conditional sentences to nine of the 23 squatters arrested over the weekend, and ordered others to undertake up to 100 hours community service. Three foreigners were tried by the Prague district court over the past two days; they were each expelled from the country for a period of 18 months. The squatters were arrested on Sunday when attempting to occupy a disused building near Karlovo náměstí in central Prague. They were charged with breaking into private property. A lawyer for a number of the squatters, Pavel Čižinský, said that he had encouraged his clients to appeal the verdict. They have up to eight days to do so.
The government has replaced half the members of the 12-member supervisory board for the Czech national carrier, ČSA, two weeks before a government tender on selling the airline runs out. The move came on Monday following a row over restructuring steps. On Friday, the board’s long-serving chairman Ivan Kočárník resigned, saying that clashes between management, trade union officials and state officials were preventing the introduction of cost-saving measures at the troubled firm; restructuring specialist Václav Novák now takes over as supervisory board chairman. Selling the national carrier in the economic downturn has not proven easy: bidders have dropped out leaving just one interested buyer, the Czech group Unimex, together with Iceland Air.
Politicians have reacted with shock to the Social Democrats’ change in stance concerning early elections. Head of the newly-formed TOP 09 Karel Schwarzenberg has said the step damages the Czech Republic’s reputation around the world, while Christian Democrat leader Cyril Svoboda has called the move ‘the pinnacle of cynicism and selfishness’. Head of the Green Party Ondřej Liška has said that the Social Democrats are several steps behind his own party, which voted against the constitutional amendment to bring about early elections last week.
Czech President Václav Klaus is to visit Russia in mid-October to discuss economic relations between Prague and Moscow, the newspaper E15 reported on Tuesday. The daily cited sources from the Russian Embassy in the Czech Republic, though the president’s office refused to confirm the visit. Mr Klaus is reported to have agreed upon the visit, which will include a meeting with his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev, during an EU-Russia summit in May. On Monday, President Klaus met Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexandr Zhukov at Prague Castle.
President Václav Klaus has invited the leaders of the two largest Czech political parties, the Social Democrats and the Civic Democrats, to Prague Castle on Wednesday to discuss the current political situation. On Tuesday afternoon, the president said he had called the meeting to resolve some of the biggest problems the country currently faced, namely working out next year’s budget and improving the country’s economic situation. Speaking in Ljubljana on Tuesday morning, the Czech president blamed the country’s Constitutional Court for the current ‘political chaos’ in the Czech Republic. After meeting his Slovenian counterpart Danilo Turk, Mr Klaus said that, regardless of the Social Democrats’ change in stance towards early elections, he did not believe that political parties were to blame for the current situation. Instead, he blamed the Constitutional Court, which ruled last week that early elections planned for October were not in line with Czech law.
Leader of the Civic Democrats Mirek Topolánek stood down as an MP on Tuesday afternoon after threatening to do so should the dissolution vote fail. At a news conference on Tuesday morning, Mr Topolánek said that he had made the decision last week, already anticipating such a move from the Social Democrats. On Tuesday morning, Mr Topolánek criticized the Social Democrats for going back upon their agreement on early elections and said that, as far as the Social Democrats were concerned, ‘an arsonist could not also be a fireman’.
In business, South Korea’s Doosan Heavy Industries and Construction said on Monday that it had signed a deal to acquire Czech turbine company Škoda Power for 655 million USD. Doosan Heavy, a key subsidiary of the Doosan group, said it had agreed to purchase all shares of Škoda Power in a deal signed in Prague. Doosan Heavy is South Korea’s largest power equipment maker, and also produces industrial facilities, machine tools and construction equipment. The firm’s President Park Gee-Won said the acquisition of Škoda Power would help his company make an aggressive advance into the European market.
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