- The government has survived a vote of no confidence in the lower house of Parliament.
- Karel Schwarzenberg, the chairman of coalition partner TOP 09, has said he was shocked by the amnesty declared this month by President Václav Klaus.
- Outgoing President Václav Klaus has issued a dig against one of the two candidates running to succeed him.
- Two Czech citizens held in Greece since September on espionage charges have returned home.
- Czech tennis player Petra Kvitová has lost to Laura Robson at the Australian Open.
Government survives vote of no confidence
The coalition government, led by Prime Minister Petr Nečas, survived a vote of no confidence on Thursday evening. The opposition initiated the vote in reaction to the recent presidential amnesty which had been counter-signed by the premier, which saw the release of more than 7,000 prisoners and halted, or threatens to halt, a number of major corruption and economic crime cases. The opposition was able to find support of 92 MPs - far short of the 101 needed to bring down the government. The attempt was the fifth by the opposition to topple the centre-right cabinet.
Schwarzenberg criticizes presidential amnesty
In related news, Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, the chairman of coalition partner TOP 09 and candidate in the second round of the presidential election, has said he was shocked by the amnesty declared this month by Václav Klaus. Speaking in the lower house ahead of the vote of no confidence on Thursday, Mr Schwarzenberg made clear he was most concerned with article 2 of the amnesty, which affects unresolved criminal cases lasting eight years or longer. Mr Schwarzenberg said he learned of the amnesty only through the president’s televised speech on January 1 and criticized the prime minister for not fully informing the cabinet in advance; he suggested it was a sign of mistrust. Along with the vote of no confidence, the opposition is pushing a proposal that would express fundamental disagreement with the presidential amnesty.
Fellow presidential candidate Miloš Zeman (not a member of Parliament) has also come out against the amnesty.
President, on ski trip, outlines candidate he'd prefer
Outgoing Czech President Václav Klaus, while skiing on Thursday, issued an apparent dig against one of the two candidates running to succeed him, Karel Schwarzenberg. Speaking to the Czech news agency and Czech Radio, Mr Klaus said he would prefer to see a candidate elected who "belonged to the country" and had spent his life here in “good times and bad”. The statement was a clear snub of Mr Schwarzenberg, the foreign minister, who grew up and spent much of his life in neighbouring Austria; his parents emigrated with him as a boy after the Communists seized power in 1948. Mr Schwarzenberg, a titled prince, said in an earlier debate he never gave up his Czechoslovak citizenship, even when abroad, and always kept strong ties to his homeland.
Czechs held in Greece on espionage charges return to Prague
Two Czech citizens held in Greece since September on espionage charges returned to Prague on Thursday morning. The two were released from jail on Wednesday on a 5,000 euro bail. Their release came after the Greek authorities stated that they did not represent a security threat. The two video games developers were arrested and accused of espionage after they took photos of a military facility on the Greek island of Lemnos. The men said they took the pictures to use them in a new game. They may still have to return to Greece for trial. The two suspects on Thursday were awaited by members of their families at the airport in what was an emotional reunion that drew marked attention from the media. One of the two men said the release had gone unexpectedly smoothly; both expressed relief to be back on Czech soil.
Health Ministry makes Tamiflu available in response to flu epidemic
The Health Ministry has made available 9,000 packages of Tamiflu in response to the flu epidemic hitting the country. One-hundred-and-thirty five people have been hospitalized in serious condition and the ministry has revealed that the flu this season has claimed 23 lives. Last week, the ministry made available 1,440 packs of the antivirotic Relenza in the keeping of the General Teaching Hospital in the Czech capital. Three-thousand packs of Tamiflu will go to the General Teaching Hospital, while further packages of the medicine will be delivered to other facilities across the country. The flu epidemic in the Czech Republic is expected to peak in the coming days or weeks, the chief hygiene officer has said.
Jan Palach remembered
Dignitaries from Prague’s Charles University, headed by rector Václav Hampl, laid flowers at Jan Palach’s plaque at the Philosophy Faculty, 44 years after Palach set himself on fire in protest of the 1968 Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia. He died on January 19 1969. Dozens in attendance on Wednesday lit candles in the student’s memory and held a minute of silence. Traffic at the square bearing Palach’s name was also temporarily halted. A new website dedicated to him has also been launched by the university, in cooperation with Czech TV, Czech Radio, the National Film Archives and other institutions.
Aviation accidents drop to lowest in 10 years
The number of aviation accidents in the Czech Republic fell to its lowest in 10 years in 2012, according to information released by the country’s Air Accidents Investigation Institute. According to the organization, the country saw 50 aviation accidents last year; there was, however, no significant drop in the number of fatalities – 13, just one fewer than the previous year. Eight people died in plane crashes, two in a helicopter crash, and three in parachute jumps. The head of the Air Accidents Investigation Institute, Pavel Štrůbl, suggested that nevertheless the generally low number of fatalities could be considered a success. He explained at a seminar on Thursday that since the 1990s the number of small sports planes and ultra-light planes in the country, considered the highest-risk, had gone up ten times, while the number of fatalities had gone up four.
Nečas marriage in trouble
Prime Minister Petr Nečas and his spouse Radka have revealed in a joint-statement that they are currently going through a difficult period in their marriage, confirming to the Czech news agency that they had been living separately for several months. The statement was issued following increased speculation by the media over several weeks; the prime minister turned down a traditional New Year’s lunch with the president earlier in January, where both wives would have been present. Mr and Mrs Nečas revealed they had no concrete plans on how to proceed but made clear their dedication to their four children, as well as continuing respect for each other, was of primary importance.
Snow worsens conditions on roads
Fresh snowfall worsened conditions on Czech roads on Thursday especially in the regions of central and southern Bohemia and Plzeň. Areas in the region of Plzeň saw between 5 and 10 new centimeters of new snow. Although all major roads remained accessible, motorists were warned to exercise extra caution due to the risk of snow drifts and also icy patches. Worsening conditions were the main factor in a number of car crashes.
Tennis: Kvitová loses thriller against Robson
Czech tennis players have had a rough time at the Australian Open, many of their campaigns to progress far into the tournament being cut short. Eighth-seeded Petra Kvitová was stunned by Great Britain’s Laura Robson in an epic three-setter that ended at 12:30 am local time. The match went three sets and came down to a tie-break: the final score was 2-6, 6-3, 11-9 in Robson’s favour. The two had never met in competition before. Other Czechs who lost include Lukáš Rosol and Lucie Šafářová, while the defending doubles champion from last year, Radek Štepánek and doubles partner Leander Paes, were defeated in the first round.
The coming days will be mostly overcast with snow across the country. Daytime highs should range between -5 and -1 degrees Celsius.