The Czech news agency ČTK has reported that US Vice-President Joe Biden will spend one night in the Czech Republic next week, arriving in Prague with Air Force Two on Thursday. Talks with the Czech prime minister as well as president and other officials will take place on Friday. The news site reported that the focus of the trip will be to re-emphasise the importance of Central Europe for the US, after the latter scrapped plans for a US radar base on Czech soil and interceptor missiles in Poland. Other topics on the agenda could include US interest in providing fuel for the Czech nuclear power plant, Temelín, as well as a possible deal on fighter jets for the Czech military.
The regional court in Hradec Králové has handed a 14-month suspended sentence with two years’ probation to an 18 year-old who planned a bomb attack at his school. The boy had faced a potential sentence of up to five years in prison. The 18 year-old had sought information on chemical substances and bomb-making on the internet, in imitation of similar attacks abroad. Throughout the case, his lawyer had maintained his actions were not meant seriously. The state attorney, by contrast, said the attack was thwarted only because the authorities were alerted in time. Friday’s ruling can still be appealed.
A new bronze statue of Albrecht of Wallenstein, a 17th century Czech nobleman, politician and army commander, was unveiled in the Wallenstein Palace on Friday to mark the 375th anniversary of nobleman’s death. Senate chairman Přemysl Sobotka and members of the Wallenstein noble family were among the guests present at the unveiling ceremony. The idea of erecting a statue of Wallenstein on the premises of the Senate was prompted by the huge success of an exhibition on Wallenstein in the Czech capital earlier.
In related news, the head of the president’s office Jiří Weigl made clear that new ratification of the Lisbon treaty by all EU states will not be necessary to meet President Václav Klaus’s conditions. Mr Weigl suggested on Friday that the country could receive guarantees similar to those given to Ireland ahead of the second Irish referendum. The Czech government has indicated a willingness to negotiate Mr Klaus’s demands with other EU members, but had sought guarantees the president would come forward with no further hurdles to the treaty. A number of EU leaders have expressed concern that the Czech president is purposely delaying ratification to allow for the British Conservative Party to call a referendum on the Lisbon treaty in 2010.
The first major snowfall of the winter has continued to wreak havoc in northern and north-eastern parts of the country, with conditions worsening in places. 50,000 homes on Friday remain without power and hot water. Repairs have been hampered by further snowfall and damaged lines in hard-to-reach areas. The electricity giant ČEZ has now declared power calamities in 11 of the country’s 14 regions. Snowstorms, which began on Thursday, set new records for snowfall in the Czech Republic in the month of October. The conditions caught many local inhabitants as well as motorists off guard.
Police in Ostrava have charged two men in connection with an alleged child pornography network broken up by police. Earlier this week, on Wednesday, teams moved in in areas in the early hours, detaining 160 suspects. Many have reportedly already confessed. The move by police, which included home searches and the confiscation of hundreds of computers, is the one of the biggest such busts ever in the Czech Republic. The two charged in Ostrava are a businessman and a public servant.
A new poll conducted by the Median agency for the Czech daily Lidové noviny has suggested that 65 percent of Czechs support the country’s president, Václav Klaus, in his refusal to sign the Lisbon treaty. The survey questioned 500 respondents, 63 percent of whom expressed worry over ratification, unless the country received an opt-out on the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights. The president has said that without an exemption, the treaty could allow for ethnic Germans expelled from Bohemia and Moravia after World War II to reopen property claims cases. The Czech Republic is the only country in the EU’s 27-member bloc to not yet have completed ratification.
The controversial German hard rock group Rammstein have added a second Czech date to their current tour, the city of Ostrava in the east of the country, in March of next year. Organisers announced the news on Friday, saying it was another opportunity for fans to see the German band. An earlier concert in Prague in November has been sold-out for months.
In other news, the convention of Czech Airlines’ pilots’ union has approved a wage cut for pilots of up to 40% based on a slew of conditions, including the departure of the company’s management and its continued ownership by the state. The head of the union, Filip Gaspar, said that the wage decrease was an alternative to privatisation, adding that the union would only sign the relevant contractual documentation with the new management. The union’s other conditions are to be announced Friday. The finance ministry is currently weighing up the sole bid for around 90 percent of Czech Airlines from the Unimex-Travel Service Consortium. The government should give its verdict on whether the sale can go ahead by the end of the month.
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