The Czech-American economist Jan Švejnar has said he will give up his US citizenship if he is elected Czech president. He made the statement in an interview for the Saturday edition of Mladá fronta Dnes. The candidate said it was a decision he hadn’t reached easily but one he had arrived at after touring the country and hearing from members of the public. Mr Švejnar, who lives on-and-off in the United States, dismissed any suggestion he was bowing to political pressure: dual-citizenship has been an issue for some lawmakers on the political Left, namely the Communists. Mr Švejnar is the sole challenger to incumbent President Václav Klaus, still widely considered the favourite. The election takes place on February 8.
Czech speed skater and athlete of the year Martina Sáblíková has confirmed dominance in the 5,000 metres by winning the event at the World Cup race in Hamar, Norway on Saturday. Sáblíková finished with a time of 6:51.83 (a track record) – 4.74 seconds ahead of nearest rival Claudia Pechstein. Sáblíková is atop the World Cup standings with 480 points, followed by Germany’s Pechstein (320), and Canada’s Hughes (285).
Labour and Social Affairs Minister Petr Nečas has indicated he hopes to introduce changes in unemployment benefits in the near future through new legislation. Saturday’s Právo reported that the minister is planning to raise benefits to 65 percent of net income instead of the current 50 percent, but also to cut state support by one month. Currently, the unemployed can be slotted for support for six, nine, or 12 months, periods which would each be shortened by 30 days. The minister told the paper also that if unemployed individuals, registered with the labour office for more than five months, rejected offered employment or retraining, they could be deleted from the registry - losing benefits. Mr Nečas has said that a final version of the draft bill will be completed in two weeks’ time.
In hockey: the NHL’s All-Star Game between the Eastern and Western Conferences is set to take place on Sunday, with two Czech players on the Eastern conference roster. They are Tomáš Kabrle, defenseman for the Toronto Maple Leafs and goalie Tomáš Vokoun, who plays for the Florida Panthers. The All-Star Game has a long tradition in the NHL; last year the showcase match was won by the West by a score of 12:9.
Around 300 people near Osečná, north Bohemia, have protested against possible uranium mining in the area. Local inhabitants, town representatives and environmentalists met at a protected 1000-year old linden tree in the village of Kotel to express their opposition. Protest organiser Josef Jadrný told Czech news agency ČTK that activists want to prevent first steps which could lead to uranium mining which could devastate nature in the Podještedí area. The protected site covers 10.5 square kilometres and could contain as much as 20,000 tonnes of uranium worth about 120 billion crowns (the equivalent of 6.8 billion US dollars). Activists have confirmed that a civic association is being established over the issue; participants have also promised to send a letter of protest to the Environment Ministry.
In related news, the head of the Green Party Martin Bursík repeated on Saturday that presidential candidate Jan Švejnar can count on backing from a majority, if not all, Green Party lawmakers. The party has just six representatives in the Chamber of Deputies but was the first to express support for Mr Švejnar’s nomination last year. The economics professor met with Green Party members on Saturday to discuss issues from the EU, to nuclear energy, and missile defense.
Czech and US negotiators will open a fifth round of negotiations in Prague on Monday on a possible tracking radar in the country as part of the United States’ missile defence shield. US officials revealed the news in Prague on Friday. The first days of talks will focus on a general legal agreement before negotiations switch to a separate deal covering ballistic missile defence and the radar's operation. This week the US showed increased interest in sealing a deal quickly; but Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek has stressed that getting a quality agreement took priority over speed. Washington wants its anti-missile shield in place and operational by 2012 in order to counter threats by so-called rogue states.
Czech President Václav Klaus, speaking at the Czech Senate on Friday to commemorate the upcoming Holocaust Remembrance Day, has said that the extermination of European Jews by the Nazi regime should not be forgotten and should remain an everlasting memento. He added on the occasion that it was necessary to recall the crimes against humanity committed against the Jewish population due to efforts by some to re-write the past for political purposes. Holocaust Remembrance Day, honouring the six million Jews who died in the Holocaust in World War Two, is marked on January 27, the day of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. In the Czech Republic, like in most European Union member states, the day has been officially marked since 2004. Besides Mr Klaus, the special session in the Senate on Friday was also attended by Senate chairman Přemysl Sobotka, Chamber of Deputies chairman Miloslav Vlček and others.
A new poll conducted by the Factum Invenio agency has suggested that public preference for the opposition Social Democratic party has continued to grow, with the party earning 38 percent of the vote if a national election were held today. According to the poll, the ruling Civic Democrats would be second, coming in 10 points behind, the Communist Party third at 17.5 percent, and the Greens fourth at 7.6. The Christian Democrats would be last, garnering 6.4 percent of the vote. Surveys have now repeatedly seen the ruling Civic Democrats fall increasingly behind their closest parliamentary rivals in terms of popularity.
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