The head of the Senate and leading Civic Democrat Přemysl Sobotka meanwhile walked out of the council meeting, saying he refused to be in the same room with Mr Topolánek after the latter accused him of conspiracy. Mr Sobotka also said he would resign his honorary membership in the party’s leadership board, to which he is privy as the chairman of the senate. Mr Sobotka was the first from within the Civic Democratic Party to call upon the chairman to resign earlier in the week. Mr Topolánek said earlier Thursday that he was unsure of the Senate chairman’s true motivations, which he said looked like an attempted coup from the outside.
The European Commission questioned on Wednesday the long-term sustainability of Czech public finances. In an evaluation of the Czech Republic’s convergence programme, the commission also criticized the lack of measures to lower the state budget deficit below 3 percent of the gross domestic product in three years’ time, which is a condition for the adoption of the euro. The commission recommended the Czech government to outline a budget strategy for 2011 and 2012 with concrete measures to lower the deficit and to come up with reforms to ensure that Czech public finances are sustainable in the long run.
A court in Prague has found that the Ministry of the Interior acted illegally when it took DNA samples from thousands of prisoners in 2007. The case in question was brought by a convicted murderer, who was also filing for 300,000 crowns in non-material damages. The Circuit Court of Prague 7 denied the plaintiff compensation, noting that he had once given a DNA sample to the police voluntarily, but cited clear misconduct on the part of the Interior Ministry and the police in requiring and storing the samples. 16,000 DNA samples were taken from prisoners convicted of wilful criminal acts in order to expand the National DNA Database used by crime investigators. The Ministry of the Interior maintains that the practice is in accordance with the law and will appeal the decision.
The executive council of the Civic Democratic Party is meeting to discuss both the future of embattled chairman Mirek Topolánek as a party candidate and the party’s continued support for the interim government of Prime Minister Jan Fischer. Regarding the first point, Mr Topolánek said in an interview for the daily Hospodářské noviny on Thursday that he would resign if the council held a vote to remove him from the ballot. Mr Topolánek has been under heavy criticism since the weekend for awkward comments he made regarding gays and Jews. The situation has provoked a row between the party chairman and Prime Minister Jan Fischer, whose Jewish faith Mr Topolánek noted when referring to him as a submissive leader. Mr Fischer has since said he would keep his communication with Mr Topolánek to a working minimum, and his son has left the Civic Democratic Party, accusing its chairman of anti-Semitism and homophobia. Mr Topolánek in turn has reiterated that he sees Mr Fischer as a weak leader.
A play-off game of the top Czech hockey league was postponed on Wednesday after a fan in the audience died of heart attack. The 59-year-old man collapsed in the 5th minute of the quarterfinal best-of-seven game between Vítkovice and Sparta Prague; he died in the stadium despite resuscitation attempts by a doctor in the audience and by paramedics who arrived at the stadium. The man, who had a history of heart illness, was declared dead after more than 30 minutes. At the same time, Sparta Prague player Jakub Korejs was injured after hitting the sideboard and was taken to hospital with spinal injuries. The referees interrupted the play; both teams later agreed to finish the game on Thursday, and postpone the remaining games of the series by one day.
Russia and the United States have not yet agreed on a new nuclear arms
treaty that is likely to be signed in Prague, White House spokesman Robert
Gibbs said on Wednesday. US President Barack Obama and his Russian
counterpart Dmitry Medvedev will speak in the coming days, and when the
details are worked out, the treaty will be signed in the Czech capital, the
The US and Russian presidents are expected to sign a new START treaty in Prague next month, the office of the Czech president said on Wednesday after a confirmation from the Russian ambassador in Prague. The Russian Embassy said the meeting could take place on April 8; on April 5 of last year, Mr Obama outlined his vision of a world free of nuclear weapons in a keynote speech at Prague Castle.
Prime Minister Jan Fischer said Thursday that the Czech Republic supports the creation of a mechanism to ensure loans to heavily indebted Greece from the individual countries of the Eurozone. The PM spoke ahead of the first meeting of the EU summit, at which the union’s political leaders are expected to deal with the plan proposed by the European Commission. Greece said Thursday evening that a plan that met its requirements was evolving successfully. Discussions are expected to continue into the night. Berlin in particular has been hesitant to support the idea as the bulk of the money would come from Germany. Mr Fischer repeated that the Czech Republic, like other EU countries that have not adopted the euro, wants to be consulted on any decision made on the issue.
In related news, Czech government-issued bonds are among the safest in the
world, the daily Hospodářské noviny reported on Wednesday, referring to
a comparison of costs of insurance against possible state defaults compiled
by the Bloomberg news agency. Czech bonds ranked eighth; the list is topped
by Norway, while Iceland and Greece ranked lowest.
Analysts believe that this is the right time to issue state bonds, particularly in foreign currencies. Meanwhile, the Czech finance minister, Eduard Janota, said earlier that the state might borrow finances in foreign currencies in the first half of this year. According to the Finance Ministry, the Czech Republic this year needs to borrow 280 billion crowns, or more than 14.7 billion US dollars.
Prague representatives have approved the further development of the controversial OpenCard, a system set to replace municipal travel passes. According to the document passed by a meeting of the city representatives, the current travel pass system is to be phased out by the end of the year, and a subsidiary of the city transport company will be established to manage it. The card system has so far proven controversial, with accusations made that it cost the capital far more than it should have. Three audits carried out at Prague City Hall uncovered a number of problems. The Opencard project cost the city CZK 800 million but has not made any profit. Some fifty demonstrators met in front of City Hall on Thursday to protest the system.
The Senate rejected on Wednesday a motion by the Christian Democrats to
raise maternity benefits to the levels of 2009. The motion also included
restoring insurance payments for the first three days of sick leave.
Senators from the right-of-centre Civic Democrats and the conservative
party TOP 09 said that if approved, the amendment would increase the state
budget deficit by another two billion crowns. The motion now will return to
the lower house which is expected to overturn the Senate veto in mid-April
with votes from Social Democrats, Christian Democrats and Communists.
The caretaker government lowered maternity benefits by 10 percentage points, and abolished payments for the first three days of sick leave in January as part of the cost cutting measures adopted to lower the state budget deficit.
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