Police statistics have revealed that crime dropped in the first quarter of 2007 in the Czech capital. Prague - one of the Czech Republic's fourteen official regions - is the only area it did so. Last year, the first three months saw 22,169 cases recorded, this year there have so far been around 70 less. Crime in the capital accounts for about a quarter of all cases in the country. The most common crimes include petty theft, pick-pocketing, car theft, and break-ins. Reportedly only about twenty percent of cases are ever solved.
Social Democrat leader Jiri Paroubek has said that while he does not prefer it as an option he has not ruled out the possibility of trying to form a grand coalition government if the current government falls. Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek has made clear his government will stake its political future on the passing of its fiscal and social reforms later this year. But his coalition, which won a narrow confidence vote in January, is not ensured a majority in the lower house. Social Democrat leader Jiri Paroubek said a grand coalition was a "theoretical possibility" but he added such a coalition could be formed only with the aim of leading the country to early elections. Social Democrat deputy chairman Zdenek Skromach has meanwhile indicated he would not be in favour of such a solution.
Car manufacturer Skoda Auto has withdrawn its offer of a salary increase of 13 percent for workers, ahead of a planned employee strike on Tuesday. The offer was originally rejected by workers' representatives pushing for a rise in wages that would be pegged to inflation and company profits. Skoda has now returned to an earlier proposal offering a 7.5 percent rise next year and an additional 3 percent the year after that. With the two sides failing to reach a deal, the strike now appears unavoidable. 26,000 people are employed at Skoda Auto.
Dozens of people gathered in Prague on Friday to pay their last respects to General Antonin Spacek who died just over a week ago at the age of 89. The former fighter pilot, who served in the RAF during World War II, was given a funeral with full military honours. It was attended by family and friends as well as state officials including Defence Minister Vlasta Parkanova, Chief of the General Staff Vlastimil Picek and other political and military figures. A representative from the President's Office on Friday said that Mr Spacek was "a hero who had risked his life for his nation". Last year the general was given the Czech Republic's highest honour - the Order of the White Lion - for service to his country. Before that, on the 60th anniversary of the D-Day landings, Mr Spacek was given the Legion of Honour by French President Jacques Chirac.
In related news, a Communist MP, Alexandr Cerny, is one of two Czech parliamentarians who have been refused a visa by the US Embassy in Prague for a planned trip by legislators to view the United States' missile defence radar system on the Marshall Islands. The head of the Communist Party Vojtech Filip has said he has sent a written complaint to US Ambassador Richard Graber. But the US Embassy in Prague responded to the news on Friday with an official statement explaining that the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs had agreed to provide a final list of participants in time for processing, but that two legislators' names were put forward 24 hours late. Both are from different political parties. In its statement the US Embassy stressed that the processing of US diplomatic visas was "uniform" regardless of "country, nationality, or party affiliation".
Thursday evening saw ice hockey's New York Rangers open their series against Atlanta in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Rangers got on the board with the first goal coming from star forward Jarmoir Jagr. The Rangers hung on to eventually win 4:3. Curiously, after the game Jagr expressed disappointment he had been the first on his team to score: he suggested it brought him bad luck. He also scored first for the Rangers in the regular season, but then found himself struggling.
In an interview for the Czech newspaper Lidove noviny, Civic Democrat MP and former finance minister Vlastmil Tlusty has said he is demanding that recently unveiled fiscal reforms planned by the government be called "a package of austerity measures" or the planned 15-percent flat tax to be removed. Otherwise, Mr Tlusty said, he will not support the bill in a parliamentary vote later this year. Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek - heading the government which has no assured majority - has said he is not planning on making any such changes. Both the prime minister and the labour and social affairs minister, Petr Necas, have called Mr Tlusty's demands "bizarre".
A spokesman for the US Missile Defense Agency has said the construction of a radar system that the US hopes to station in the Brdy military zone southwest of Prague would cost about 260 million US dollars. But the total costs of the radar system are estimated as higher at 550 million, including 118 million for communications equipment and 45 million for the guarding of the area. The agency confirmed the information that the US would transfer its radar system from the Marshall Islands if agreement is reached with the Czech Republic. Negotiations were officially launched only recently and are expected to last until the end of the year. If deployed the radar base is intended to complement a rocket installation in Poland, part of a broader US missile defence shield.
Czech brewers are considering registering Czech beer as a protected European trademark in order to get around strict EU regulations, Lidove noviny reported. The EU recommends that brewers use energy-saving, environmentally friendly technology, technology that small breweries in the Czech Republic would have trouble affording. If the EU recommendations become legally binding, such breweries would be threatened, Jan Vesely of the Czech Brewers Union told the daily.
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