Finance minister Miroslav Kalousek, the driving force behind the government’s austerity package, is currently the most trusted member of the cabinet, according to the results of a poll conducted by the polling agency SANEP. According to the survey, respondents praised Mr. Kalousek’s responsible approach to state finances and his rational arguments. In 2008 Miroslav Kalousek was named Finance Minister of the Year by the Washington-based magazine Emerging Markets.
Moto GP championship leader Jorge Lorenzo won the Czech Grand Prix on Sunday, his seventh victory of the season. The 23-year-old Spaniard, who started third on the grid on his Yamaha, jumped out in front and led from the first lap. He finished more than five seconds ahead of compatriot and championship rival Dani Pedrosa who began on pole. Lorenzo now has a 77-point lead over Pedrosa. Australian Casey Stoner finished third, beating out American Ben Spies into fourth. Italian world champion Valentino Rossi finished fifth, where he started the race.
Police in Liberec are searching for a local businessman who went missing after losing everything in the floods. Friends and family say they fear for his life. Rescue teams have been combing the forests near a local dam where the police reportedly picked up a signal from his mobile phone. The man’s family has appealed to the public to provide any information regarding his possible whereabouts.
The government’s austerity package will be the focus of a meeting on Monday between Health Minister Leoš Heger and doctors’ trade unions. The talks are expected to be stormy since trade unions in the health sector have been drumming up support for a campaign in aid of higher wages in state-run clinics and hospitals. They have appealed to doctors to stage a mass walk-out and apply for jobs abroad if the ministry does not raise their salaries by the end of the year.
President Václav Klaus has acknowledged the government’s plan to cut and tax his salary, saying that the economic situation called for belt-tightening at all levels. In an interview for Mladá fronta Dnes, the president said that his office already operated on a modest budget and would further reduce its expenditures. Even so, the president could not resist a jibe at the finance minister, saying that he had been somewhat amused to find that in the 10-million-strong Czech Republic the head of state would be asked to make the biggest sacrifice. The cabinet has proposed reducing the president’s monthly salary – which amounts to 196.000 crowns – by five percent and levelling a 15 percent tax on his income. Ex-president Vaclav Havel will also see his 50 thousand crown monthly income taxed. Under current law the president alone is exempted from tax duty.
Former Social Democrat leader Jiří Paroubek has said he has no ambitions to return to high politics. Speaking on a televised debate, Mr. Paroubek said he would not be running for the top party post at an upcoming party conference in the spring, and named David Rath as the man he would most like to see at the helm. The former leader, who has been widely blamed for the party’s poor showing in the last general elections, said he would focus on his work as a deputy, write a number of books and maybe establish an internet magazine.
The governor of the flood-stricken Liberec region, Stanislav Eichler, has assured locals that the army, fire crews and police would continue to help out for as long as necessary. He made the statement in response to roumours that the army was withdrawing its men now that the worst was over. There are currently over 1,000 soldiers helping with demolition work and road repairs and police re-enforcements from around the country are patrolling the area to prevent looting. Thousands of homes in the Liberec region remain uninhabitable after last weekend’s devastating flash floods and the army is building provisional bridges to open the way for trucks bringing emergency supplies.
Czech police officers will be asked to take a 10 percent pay cut next year within the government’s planned austerity measures. Ten percent cuts have been ordained for all ministries but it is up to the institutions themselves to decide whether to lay-off staff or implement pay cuts. Police president Oldřich Martinu told Czech TV on Sunday that he was not in favour of laying-off staff. He said the cost-cuts would also mean that the police would have to restrict some of its activities.
Another canoeist is believed to have drowned on the river Cidlina, after overturning in a weir. A witness saw two young men go down and called for help but police officers were only able get to one of them. The other was swept downstream and police have so far not managed to find the body. Despite repeated warnings to stay off the country’s rivers, two other teens nearly drowned on the river Metuj. Both were drunk after spending a night at a music festival and took a boat out. Rescuers got them out in time. A sixteen-year-old girl drowned on a canoeing trip last weekend.
Prague councillors are planning to re-open debate on a plan which would see homeless people evicted from the city centre to a specially allocated place in the suburbs. Councillor Jiří Janeček, who drafted the proposal, says it would have numerous advantages, letting homeless people live as they like without being bothered by frequent police checks and orders to move elsewhere. Mr. Janeček describes the homeless colony as an oasis – where the homeless could be taken by mini-buses and where special workers could provide assistance and prevent conflicts. Human rights activists and NGOs are shocked by the proposal, saying that it is a plan to build a ghetto from which homeless people would find it impossible to return to a normal life.
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