Former prime minister and Civic Democrat leader Mirek Topolánek defended
himself and the current Czech Defence Minister who have been caught up in
scandal over suspected corruption surrounding the purchase of armoured
personnel carriers for the Czech army. Mr Topolánek said during a
television debate on Sunday that he felt no personal responsibility for
14.4 billion crown contract to purchase 107 APCs from the Austrian firm
Steyr. Newspaper reports suggest two to three percent of that amount went
to Czech politicians in kickbacks.
Former defence minister in Mr Topolánek’s centre-right coalition, Vlasta Parkanová, told Saturday’s edition of the daily Dnes that he had supported the deal from start to finish, adding that there was a great hurry to seal it. She added that Mr Topolánek wanted the then deputy minister from his party and current defence minister, Martin Barták, to deal with the dossier and she was sidelined. Mr Topolánek said Vlasta Parkanová did not have the courage to renegotiate the deal. Czech and Austrian police have launched investigations of the contract.
Czech ice hockey manager Vladimír Růžička says he will field an unchanged formation, at least in the early stages, for the key match against Russia on Sunday night. The Czechs just need to draw the Winter Olympics tie to go through to the quarterfinals after already winning the two opening group qualifiers. The manager’s decision means that Jaromír Jagr together with Petr Čajánek and Roman Červenka should lead the attack early on. Russian chances of progressing have been dented after their second match loss against Slovakia.
Prague airport, the biggest in Central Europe, has warned that a threatened four-day strike by Lufthansa pilots would result in the cancellation of around 30 flights a day. The main route between Prague and Frankfurt is served by 14 daily return flights with one return flight daily to Munich. Lufthansa pilots have threatened to strike from Monday in a bid to win greater job security guarantees from management. They say that security is undermined by the carrier’s increasing reliance on group airlines British Midland and Austrian Airlines. Around 4,000 plots from the main carrier, its cargo and low-cost subsidiary could take part. Czech Airlines said it would put bigger aircraft on routes to and from Germany where possible.
Two Czech adventurers left Prague on Sunday at the start of an expedition aimed at crossing the ice-bound Russian lake Baikal by foot and on skis. Polar explorer Václav Sůra and computer programmer Pavel Blažek will start the 650-kilometre expedition when they arrive in Siberia. They will make the trip, which is estimated to take 35 days, pulling all their supplies with no help such as dogs or kites. They will use boots with special spikes for gripping the ice on the first part of the journey and switch to skis later. Temperatures on the lake can fall as low as minus 30 degrees Celsius.
Most Czechs support a court ban on the far-right Workers’ Party
according to a poll released by the SANEP agency on Sunday. The Supreme
Administrative Court decided to dissolve the party on Wednesday citing its
racist, xenophobic and anti-gay stances and Nazi links. The poll showed
almost 75 percent of respondents in favour of the court ruling. Around
four-fifths of those surveyed characterised the party as extremist and
propagating Nazism with 69 percent saying it was a threat to democracy.
Just over 14,000 people were questioned for the survey.
Leaders of the Workers’ Party said on Saturday that they will fight upcoming general elections under the banner Workers’ Party of Social Justice (DSSS). Leader Tomáš Vanas said he identified a wave of support after the dissolution decision and that could be demonstrated in elections. The court decision was the first time a party has been dissolved on political not financial grounds since the creation of the Czech Republic in 1993.
Czech cross country skier Lukáš Bauer failed to get in the medals in the skiathlon event at the Vancouver Winter Olympics. He ended in seventh place after a collision in the closing stages which separated him from the leading group. The warm conditions also worked against him, Bauer said. Bauer already won a bronze in the 15 kilometre freestyle event earlier in the games. His strongest discipline, the 50 kilometre race, takes place on February 28. Bauer previously took home silver in the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin.
The Communist secret police, the StB, planned to kidnap the well known exiled Czech journalist Pavel Tigrid in the 1960’s but he escaped the attempt at the last minute, according to the weekend edition of the daily Dnes. If successful, the kidnap would probably have been followed by Tigrid’s killing. The paper drew on research by Radek Schovánek of the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes. The StB decided to target Tigrid after he founded the magazine “Testimony” and refused an approach to cooperate with the secret police. The kidnap was due to take place in Budapest at a meeting of international writers but local police warned Tigrid, then a US citizen, so he fled to France. The StB later tried to smear Tigrid with being involved in a plot to kill the French president, Charles de Gaulle, the paper reported.
Separately, Civic Democrat leader Mirek Topolánek said the whole current system of awarding arms contracts is flawed and should be reformed. He said standard public tenders for contracts should be take place the same as for public contracts in other sectors. Mr Topolánek added that stepped up internal audits of contracts should also take place within the ministry of defence. Special rules apply to arms tenders, supposedly because of their sensitivity and the need for secrecy. Scandals have surrounded many large Czech arms contracts including the final deal in 2004 to lease 14 Gripen fighter jets.
Czech boxer Luboš Šuda took the title of European Union champion in the cruiserweight category. He knocked out Belgian Geoffrey Batello in the 10th round of the contest held in city of Liege, Belgium, on Saturday night. It is the 22nd career victory for the former world champion kick boxer. His trainer described the vacant title as the highest the 33-year-old had gained so far.
A Czech skier was among three people killed in the Italian Alps on Saturday, according to news wire reports. The Czech victim was a 44-year-old man from Prague, the AFP news agency said. The Czech was among a group of skiers in the northern section of the Valle d’Aosta district. Avalanches killed two others in the same region on Saturday. The Italian government is reportedly considering a crackdown on reckless skiers who ignore safety warnings after a series of fatal accidents in recent weeks.