Former Czech president Václav Havel says that Palestinians have the right to a free state and that the legitimacy of Israel is as unquestionable as with any other UN member state. Mr Havel weighed in on the issue in response to an open letter signed by various politicians and activists, who asked that he support a boycott on Israel until it begins to adhere to international law. The letter was signed by former Czech foreign minister Jan Kavan and the chairman of the Communist Party, Vojtěch Filip. Mr Havel wrote that the recent renewal of peace talks between Israel and Palestine offered hope and that both parties to the conflict deserved encouragement rather than a boycott.
Transport Minister Vít Bárta has ruled out state involvement in a plan to build a 25-km railway tunnel from Prague to Beroun, saying the Railway Infrastructure Administration would have to find a cheaper alternative to the 33 billion crown project. The rail administration said Friday it was prepared to quickly compile an alternative project that would consist of optimising the current track; that however would not significantly decrease travel time between the cities. Mr Bárta also confirmed that a rail corridor from Prague to Cheb via Plzeň would be completed within three years and will cut travel time between those cities by half.
Two of the tunnels on Prague’s newly opened southern bypass were automatically closed to traffic on Friday afternoon as an automatic security system responded to an oversized cargo vehicle. The system assessed the vehicle as having an excessive load and closed traffic in both directions in one tunnel before closing the second to prevent columns forming inside. The bypass is the first road in the country with such a system and was opened on Monday.
The leadership of the TOP 09 party has announced it will withdraw from local elections in the city of Liberec and plans to cancel its organisation there. The party’s deputy chairman Miroslav Kalousek apologised to voters on Friday, telling reporters that the decision was the result of inappropriate behaviour on the part of a party electoral representative, who struck three of his rivals off the ballot, including the top candidate. The party revoked the representative’s power of proxy on Monday, but not before the changes to the ballot were legally binding. Mr Kalousek said he did not want to offer voters a “rotten apple” and would instead support partner parties in the city. TOP 09 was one of the favourites in the local election in Liberec, where they defeated the incumbent Civic Democratic Party in parliamentary elections earlier this year.
Charges were also filed on Friday against 13 members of an armed “anti-theft unit” of the power company ČEZ, who are suspected of having used illegal methods of coercion against debtors. The men face up to six months’ imprisonment if found convicted. Many in the Czech Republic were shocked by video footage of the ČEZ controllers which became public earlier this year. Its members were seen dressed like commandoes and carrying out paramilitary like training.
The Minister of Education, Josef Dobeš, has bowed to pressure to dismiss the head of the ministry’s investments division, Michal Pilin, over suspicions of corruption. The dismissal came hours after Czech Radio reported on Friday that Mr Pilin had already been forced out of the ministry of education once before for alleged manipulation of tenders. The minister defended Mr Pilin on Friday, saying he did not believe he had done anything wrong, but made the dismissal in order to put an end to media speculation. Mr Dobeš said he had not yet read an audit carried out by the previous education minister, which allegedly proves Mr Pilin’s involvement in suspicious orders that led to the loss of hundreds of millions of crowns.
The former director of the Prague Zoo, Petr Fejk, appears to be in talks to leave his new post at the Czech Centre in New York. While the centre has confirmed there is a chance the well-known manager may be leaving, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which runs the centres, has denied such speculation. Mr Fejk took up the head position at the Czech Centre at the beginning of 2010. Since then he has complained of lacking the authority to implement the vision he was hired to put through, such as involving the centre more in business. Mr Fejk has been credited with turning the Prague Zoo into a world-class institution in his 12 years there and was frequently named as a likely candidate for Prague mayor in the run up top this year’s local elections.
Police and the state prosecutor have charged a city official in Znojmo abuse of power as a public official; four other people from the private sector were charged with bribery. The charges come a day after the police raided the municipal offices of the South Moravian town and allegedly found evidence of corruption in the departments focusing on property and development. A town hall clerk was arrested on Thursday afternoon and remains in custody; police have said that no elected officials are under investigation. The investigation is believed to involve a 2009 tender for construction work carried out in the city centre.
The Czech women’s basketball team started with a 67:53 win against Argentina in their opening group match in the world championships being hosted by the Czech Republic. In the other game in their group Russia beat Japan 86:63. The 16 team competition is one of the biggest sports events of the year in the Czech Republic and is taking place in Brno, Ostrava and Karlovy Vary. The Czechs, currently sixth in the world rankings, are thought to have a chance of being amongst the medals.
Defence Minister Alexandr Vondra said Friday that a planned increase in the numbers of Czech troops to Afghanistan would only last until 2012. On Thursday, plans were announced to send an additional 200 soldiers to Afghanistan next year, bringing the total number to around 730. However, Mr Vondra says that a clear indication must be sent that the soldiers will not be there forever, and their numbers will be cut to around 620 in 2012. Around half of the increase will involve elite soldiers, while the government also wants to send more military police officers to the war-torn state. The majority of the 530 Czech troops currently in Afghanistan are operating in a provincial reconstruction team in the province of Logar.
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