Police on Thursday charged a 51-year-old man with robbery. The charge
follows a dramatic four-hour armed hold up at a bank in a Prague suburb on
Wednesday during which a masked man held two women bank staff hostage.
Police said further charges of kidnapping and blackmail were possible. The
man demanded a ransom of three million crowns, or roughly 160,000 dollars.
A special police unit eventually freed the one remaining woman hostage and
seized the man after creating a diversionary explosion. Bank hold ups
combined with hostage taking are relatively rare in the country.
Civic Democrats take control of Prague city council
The right-wing Civic Democrat party took full control of the running of Prague city council on Thursday. The move follows the resignation of the remaining Green Party member on the council, Petr Štěpánek. Civic Democrats, who have a majority on the 70-seat assembly decided last week to end their coalition with the Greens. The only other Green on the council stepped down last week in protest that her proposals for a more vigorous fight against corruption and investigation into the city’s controversial introduction of a new electronic payment card were blocked.
Police said Thursday that they had charged a Prostějov-based organ maker with fraud. The man was commissioned by Hradec Králové city council to build a new organ for its philharmonic orchestra and advanced 6.0 million crowns as a down payment. When the project appeared to be running into problems, the council asked for the money back but the man had already spent 5.4 million on himself. He faces up to 12 years in prison if found guilty. The organ was supposed to have been completed in 2007. Last year the contract was awarded to another manufacturer.
Four out of five Czechs believe that global warming has taken place in the past years according to a survey by the STEM agency. Around 75 percent of those surveyed said this was caused by human behaviour but a quarter put this down to natural changes. Three quarters also believed that the Czech Republic should take bolder steps to curb greenhouse gas emissions even if this has an impact on the Czech economy. Talks between world leaders on a new global framework to curb greenhouse gases culminate in Copenhagen at the end of this week.
The Ministry of Finance has said it will prepare a further package to curb
the country’s rising budget deficit. But a spokesman said there would be
no attempts to push the second package through parliament before elections
due in May next year. That ambitious step to set a framework for the 2011
budget had previously been backed by Finance Minister Eduard Janota.
The Czech Republic faces the likelihood of disciplinary measures from the European Commission because of its high deficit. There are also mounting worries that the country’s credit rating could be cut by international agencies.
The Finance Ministry’s comments come with tension still high over the final format of next year’s budget following sweeping changes voted through last week. Last week’s changes, backed by left wing parties, largely aimed at increasing wages of public workers. The government has said it will seek to absorb the extra spending so that the 2010 budget deficit stays at around 163 billion crowns or around 5.3 percent of Gross Domestic Product. That task is set to be the main focus of a Cabinet meeting on January 10.
Top Civic Democrat Petr Nečas called Thursday for the government as a whole and not just the prime minister to give a public commitment that it will seek to curb the budget deficit.
President Václav Klaus has vetoed a parliamentary proposal aimed at banning the sale of Prague airport. He said that the move encroached on the government’s powers. The move to ban the sale of the airport on the grounds that it is a strategic asset for the whole of society was originally passed by the lower house at the start of this year. The move was mainly backed by the Social Democrats, Communists and Christian Democrats. The Senate opposed the proposal but was overruled in a second vote by the lower house. Social Democrat shadow finance minister Bohuslav Sobotka said the party would seek to overturn the presidential veto.
Two top members of the Czech army have resigned their positions with
effect from the end of the year. Czech media have linked the moves to a
series of recent scandals concerning Czech units serving abroad. A Ministry
of Defence spokeswoman said the requests to leave were made by the two
deputy chiefs of general staff and would not comment further.
General Jiří Halaška was responsible for managing units serving on foreign missions. He was suspended from duty in November following a scandal when two Czech soldiers serving in Afghanistan were revealed to be wearing SS symbols on their uniforms. General Josef Prokš said he wanted to leave the army after 15 years service and no further motives should be sought.
As well as problems in Afghanistan, the Czech peacekeeping force in Kosovo has been tarnished by reports of soldiers smoking dope and regularly getting drunk. One soldier also accidentally shot a colleague.
In football, Sparta Prague have bowed out of the Europa League following a 0:3 home defeat against Copenhagen on Wednesday night. A weakened Sparta struggled against the more active Danish opposition and were two gaols down by half time. They needed to win the game to go through to the next round of the competition. City rivals Slavia Prague play their last Europa League game on Thursday against French team Lille but have no chance of going further in the competition.
The Czech Ministry of Interior said on Thursday that around 2,089 foreigners had taken advantage of its voluntary repatriation programme. This amounts to around a third of the potential uptake. The initial programme offering free flights home and a cash payment of around 13,100 crowns to foreigners working legally was launched in mid-February with 1,871 foreigners taking up the offer. A follow up programme ending December 15 with the payment cut to around 7,880 crowns attracted only 218 people. The Ministry launched a third programme offering just free flights for foreigners illegally staying in the country. This was taken up by 169 people.
Police have apprehended an armed robber who held two people hostage during a bank robbery in a residential district of Prague. The crisis began Wednesday morning when it was reported that a man had taken the bank manager hostage in her office at a branch of Komerční banka in Prague’s Novodvorská suburb and demanded three million crowns, or roughly 160,000 dollars. The manager was later released by the robber, without any further demands and apparently unharmed. Roughly two hours later, police gained control of the situation and freed the remaining hostage, reportedly after causing a diversionary explosion inside the bank. According to Czech Television, the perpetrator visited the branch office on Tuesday to apply for a business loan, but lacked the proper documentation, and returned on Wednesday on the pretext of signing a contract with the bank manager. No one was injured in the course of the ordeal.
Young men in the Czech Republic are drinking less beer than in the past, according to the polling agency CVVM. According to a survey conducted by the agency regularly since 2004, 92% of men aged 18 to 30 drank beer in the first year, while 84% say they do today. Nine out of ten Czech men in general and slightly more than half of women say they drink beer occasionally. The amount of beer consumption in the country has declined in recent years; nonetheless, Czechs remain the top beer drinkers in the world, with 154 litres consumed per person per year.
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