The Prime Minister says that improving the quality of college education is a top priority for his government. Speaking at the start of the new school year at the West Bohemian University in Plzeň, the prime minister said that educational reforms must focus on quality rather than quantity so as to keep the country’s economy competitive in the long term. Also speaking at the event was Education Minister Josef Dobeš, who said he wants an amendment to legislation on colleges and a law on financial support for students in 2011. Mr Dobeš also addressed last year’s scandal over fraudulent degrees at the West Bohemian University, saying that he hoped this year would bring a definitive exoneration of the institution and its faculty.
Meanwhile, more than 3000 physicians have signed a petition saying they will resign at the end of the year if the government will not ensure certain salary conditions. The “Děkujeme, odcházíme” [Thank You, We’re Leaving] campaign, organised by the Trade Union of Doctors, demands that the pay of hospital physicians equal 1.5 to three times the national average wage, reported as roughly 23,500 crowns. Support has varied from region to region, with as many as 80% in some hospitals having signed. The threat of a mass exodus if hospital physicians’ salaries were not increased was already on the table this spring; however a labour ministry proposal that would decrease the wages of new health care workers by more than 40% has exacerbated the situation.
The Czech Republic has taken silver at the 2010 women’s basketball world championships, which were held in the Czech Republic. The Czechs were beaten 69:89 by the favourites, the USA, in Sunday’s final at the KV Arena in Karlovy Vary. It was the first time the Czech women had reached the final at the world championships since 1971, when they won silver while still part of Czechoslovakia.
Precipitation in Northern Bohemia for 2010 looks set to break a record of nearly 30 years. According to the Czech Meteorological Institute, precipitation in the town of Liberec has already exceeded anything they have on record, with more than 1,100 litres of water per square metre having fallen so far this year, or as much as in the wettest year since 1939. July, August and September all were record-breaking months, bringing flooding and billions of crowns in damages.
The Civic Democratic Party, which heads the government, has indicated it will not be meeting with Public Affairs to discuss a spying scandal around the ABL detective agency. Prime Minister and Civic Democratic chairman Petr Nečas told the Czech Press Agency that the matter should be handled by the police rather than politicians. The coalition has been shaken by allegations that the agency, owned until recently by Public Affairs’ Minister for Transport Vít Barta, was hired to spy on politicians in a district of Prague in 2006. At least two of the alleged targets of the surveillance have pressed charges with the police.
The daily Právo reports that hundreds more police will be voluntarily retiring this year than the Interior Ministry has anticipated. Citing police statistics, Právo writes that the presidium expects nearly 2,000 employees to leave the force at the end of 2010. Only recently Interior Minister Radek John said he expected roughly 1,200 departures. The number of retirement applications apparently spiralled last week, as police employees sought to take advantage of benefits and severance pay available to them only if they resigned by October. Some 950 policemen availed themselves of that possibility at the last moment; for comparison, about 1100 retired earlier in the year. The Ministry of the Interior has planned to cut police salaries by 10%, in line with cuts across state employees’ salaries.
A Week of Libraries got underway in the Czech Republic on Monday morning. It is the 13th time the event has been held and this year’s event is subtitled Libraries for Everyone. Hundreds of libraries around the country are holding open days and public readings, while some are also offering free registration and ‘amnesties’ of charges for late returns. Many libraries began the special week with readings of the works of the great 19th century Czech writer Karel Hynek Mácha.
Police patrols have been intensified at Prague Airport after a warning of terrorist attacks in Europe announced by the United States. Police with automatic weapons and dog handlers are patrolling the grounds and an armoured vehicle is present. The security conditions also apply to other international airports in the country and certain other high-risk buildings. The Czech Ministry of the Interior the measures were preventive and did not slow down the operation of the airport in any way. Washington has advised American citizens to be vigilant while travelling in Europe because of the threat of an al-Qaeda attack. The warning is general and does not mention any particular country.
The Czech military has paid over ten billion crowns to the arms intermediary Omnipol and related companies over the past 12 years, the news website Aktualne.cz reports. Citing a Defence Ministry analysis, the site writes that the payments increased particularly under the government of Mirek Topolaenk between 2007 and May of 2009. The Defence Ministry says it will be drafting an amendment to the respective law that would allow the state to buy weapons without intermediaries. The ministerial report does not specify how much the companies in question received for particular deals because the ministry does not have these data; Omnipol´s annual reports, however, show commissions running into the hundreds of millions.
A survey carried out by the STEM polling agency suggests that the Czech military remains the most trusted security institution in the country, although confidence in it has fallen seven percentage points from 69% last year. The police, meanwhile, have gain trust somewhat, up four points to 56%. Of international security institutions, Czechs have the highest trust in Interpol (75%) and NATO (58%). The opinions of NATO were influenced by political stands of those polled, with lower confidence among Social Democrat and Communist voters. These differences were less marked in Interpol and the military, and hardly applied to the police, STEM said.