Social Democrat leader Jiří Paroubek asked the Czech government on Wednesday to investigate a multi-billion purchase of 107 Austrian armoured vehicles for the Czech army. The daily Mladá fronta Dnes reported that in 2002, the producer of the Pandur vehicles, the Austrian firm Steyr, was ready to hire a lobbyist to arrange meetings with Czech politicians. The deal, worth 10.7 billion crowns, or nearly 567 million US dollar, was concluded three years later. The Austrian company in the end did not hire the lobbyist. However, the Czech Republic ended up paying more then three times the price per one vehicle than Portugal, which ordered the same model at around the same time.
For the first time ever, Czech farmers will plant no flax this season due to dwindling demand. The country’s last industrial flax-growing plant near Polička, in eastern Bohemia, will close down by the end of May as a result, the company’s head said on Wednesday. While in 1991, flax was grown on 21,000 hectares, the plant was last year only grown on 148 hectares. In the early 1990s the Czech Republic had some 26 industrial flax-growing plants.
In a breakthrough ruling on Wednesday, the Czech Supreme Administrative
Court banned the far-right Workers Party. The court ruled that the
Workers’ Party spreads xenophobic and chauvinist views and had racist
undertones in its materials. The party’s programme also exploited
homophobia and fears of foreigners and immigrants, the court said. While
Czech politicians have welcomed Wednesday’s ruling, Worker’s Party
Tomáš Vandas said the group would appeal the ruling and run in May’s
Wednesday’s ruling is the result of a second attempt by the government to ban the party, which it maintains is a dangerous offshoot of the neo-Nazi movement. An initial attempt at the start of 2009 was dismissed by the court for lack of evidence.
In related news, the Czech Education Ministry is going to support science education to address an impending shortage of technical experts, Education Minister Miroslava Kopicová told reporters on Wednesday. Ms Kopicová met with the head of the Czech state-controlled energy giant ČEZ, Martin Roman, who said the firm was going to need some 12,000 energy experts by 2020. However, far fewer students graduate from the country’s technical universities. Minister Kopicová suggested making science education more attractive to pupils at elementary schools and establishing scholarships and internships for university students.
Archaeological research in Prague’s St Haštal church failed on
Wednesday to discover the remains of the 13th century Czech saint, Agnes
Bohemia. The archaeologists lowered a camera into a vault near the altar
the church that was believed to be the saint’s tomb. However, the
found there come from the 18th century, rather than from the Middle Ages.
St. Agnes, a daughter of the Bohemian King Přemysl Otakar I, renounced a life of wealth and comfort to found a Franciscan Convent in Prague in 1232. She died in 1282 and was canonized a few days before the start of the Velvet Revolution in November 1989. Her remains are believed to have been hidden during the Hussite wars and were never rediscovered.
The US-based action website Ebay will launch a new platform in Czech and five other languages by the end of March, the company said on Wednesday. Ebay believes that allowing buyers to navigate in their native languages will boost cross-border transactions. The website will also offer its on-line payment system, PayPal, in six new languages. Ebay said the Czech Republic and five other countries were chosen based on demand. Last year, the number of registered users of the website rose by 3 percent to 90.1 million.
The Czech energy giant ČEZ stopped on Wednesday disconnecting users
suspected of stealing electricity. The company’s head, Martin Roman said
such interventions in the past were in line with Czech law but admitted
they did not always follow the firm’s code of ethics. ČEZ will now file
lawsuits against customers suspected of stealing electricity, instead of
immediately disconnecting them from the grid.
ČEZ has recently been criticized over harsh treatment of its customers who the company suspected of stealing electricity. Several media outlets also published video footage earlier this month depicting the paramilitary-style training of the firm’s anti-theft unit.
Czech figure skater Michal Březina complained on Wednesday about unfair refereeing at the Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver. Březina received 78 points for his performance at men’s short programme, finishing ninth. However, he said he performed better at the Olympics than at last year’s European Championships where he got 79 points. Another Czech figure skater Tomáš Verner ranks 19th after first phase of the competition.
Some 60 percent of small and mid-sized Czech companies believe it is necessary to pay some form of bribe in order to win public contracts, according to a survey of 550 Czech firms. The study, conducted by the Czech Association of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises, also suggests that more than 25 percent of the companies would be ready to pay bribes to get such contracts. Meanwhile, 44 percent of the firms surveyed said they would be willing to blow the whistle should they learn about corrupt practices. Anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International said the numbers were very high, while the head of the association said many companies were angry about the situation.
Historian Jiří Pernes is set to become the new director of the Czech Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes, the institute’s spokesman said on Wednesday. The institute’s council chose Mr Pernes over four other candidates who applied for the post, including the institute’s current director, Pavel Žáček. Mr Žáček faced criticism over the publication of an article by one of the institute’s researchers which accused the writer Milan Kundera of collaborating with Czechoslovakia’s communist secret police, allegations rejected by Mr Kundera and questioned by other experts.
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