The Czech government on Wednesday approved a memorandum of understanding between the Czech Republic and the steel giant ArcelorMittal, ending all their disputes. Under the agreement, ArcelorMittal will withdraw all its suits against the Czech Republic in which it demanded 26 billion crowns, and the Czech Republic, will, in turn, sell an 11-percent stake in the largest Czech steel maker ArcelorMittal Ostrava to ArcelorMittal. The Czech Republic will gain 6.8 billion crowns from the shares sold. ArcelorMittal now holds over 71 percent shares in ArcelorMittal Ostrava.
The minister for human rights and minorities, Džamila Stehlíková, says
a bill on euthanasia, tabled in the Senate, contradicts one of the
fundamental human rights – the right to life. The minister warned of
possible widespread misuse and argued that such a bill should have been
preceded by a widespread expert and public debate.
The first ever euthanasia bill reached the upper house of parliament on Tuesday and immediately sparked controversy. Drafted by Senator Václava Domšová of the European Democrats the bill would legalize assisted suicide, and give comatose patients the right to die. However, it faces a number of obstacles. Senators across the board are opposed to it, citing concerns over potential misuse. Despite these fears, opinion surveys indicate that two-thirds of Czechs would support the right to assisted suicide.
Police are gearing up for a skinhead march in the town of Svitava, east of Prague on Saturday. Some 200 far-right activists are expected to march through the town centre to protest against a court ruling that sent one of their mates to 17 years in prison last year for a racially motivated murder. Vlastimil Pechanec was found guilty of stabbing to death a Romany man with whom he’d got into a verbal conflict. Pechanec had been sentenced for violence previously. In the late 90s he spent two years in jail for attacking a young Romany with a knife. In May of 2001 he spent 14 months behind bars for attacking two anarchists. A number of skinhead rallies have already been held in protest against the most recent verdict.
The Czech government on Wednesday approved a proposal for the state to compensate all victims of the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, regardless of whether they had received some form of compensation in the communist years. An earlier legislation opening the way for compensation of 1968 victims does not entitle many of them to apply. According to Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek this is unfair since the sum they had received was negligible. Under the law from 2005, the victims or their relatives can apply for a one-off financial compensation from 30,000 to 150,000 crowns depending on the harm suffered.
Dana Kuchtová, deputy chairwoman of the Green Party, has announced she will challenge Martin Bursík for the party’s top post at an extraordinary party conference in September. She has been one of Mr Bursík’s most vocal critics, accusing the Greens leader of autocratic practices and claiming that he was not doing enough to defend the party’s policy programme within the governing coalition. At a press conference in Prague on Wednesday Dana Kuchtová said that the Greens had veered too far right, when they should rightly be a centrist party. Party leader Martin Bursík, who has come under a lot of pressure from both inside and outside the party, recently called an extraordinary conference at which he plans to run for re-election in order to boost his mandate ahead of crucial votes in Parliament.
The German concern Siemens has decided to pull out from its railway vehicles producing plant in Prague-Zličín by the second half of this year, the company announced in a press release on Wednesday. The company intends to regroup its European production activities to boost its long-term competitiveness. Siemens is looking for a buyer, but a spokesman for the concern did not rule out that the Prague plant may eventually be sold. The plant has over 1,000 employees.
The winning design for a new national library building by the renowned Czech-born architect Jan Kaplický will not be built on Prague’s Letná Plain, Culture Minister Václav Jehlička told reporters after a government meeting on Wednesday. The minister cited financial reasons, saying the state could only afford to pay 2 billion for the new building while Kaplický’s design would require four billion. Kaplický’s design, a nine storey building, dubbed “the blob” has divided the public as well as experts and politicians. Critics say its avant-garde design would ruin Prague’s sky-line.
Poland’s President Lech Kaczynski is scheduled to meet with President Václav Klaus in Prague on Thursday for talks expected to focus largely on the Lisbon Treaty. Polish officials have dismissed reports that President Kaczynski is coming to Prague to try and soften President Klaus’s position on the treaty, at the instigation of France which currently holds the rotating EU presidency. Although President Kaczynski refused to sign the treaty when it was rejected by Irish voters in June he changed his mind following a meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy. President Klaus remains firmly opposed to it, claiming that after Ireland’s rejection the Lisbon treaty is dead and efforts to revive it are a waste of time.
The strong crown is costing the Czech Republic millions in lost monies from the EU, says the government. The cause is simple – the converted monies are simply not worth as much as they used to be. Now, the Czech Prime Minister has come up with a potential solution. Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, Mr Topolánek stated that one way to save money might be to source it in a different currency other than Euros, although further details were not forthcoming. The Czech Republic is poised to receive 26.7 billion Euros from the EU between 2007 and 2013. However, when the agreement was signed, 1 Euro was worth 26 crowns. Today, one Euro brings only around 23 crowns.
Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek has announced that the controversial privatization of the Budvar beer company will be delayed. Specifically, Mr Topolánek noted that the privatization of the company, which is currently in state ownership cannot be completed before the current government’s mandate expires in 2010. The government’s plan is for a two-phased sell off – firstly the company would be transformed into a limited company with the majority of shares owned by the government. After that, the company would be sold off. It remains unclear whether the delay is connected to the recent proposed merger of Anheuser-Busch and InBev, which would create the world’s largest beer company. Czech politicians remain keenly aware of public demands of keeping Czech Budweiser independent of its American – now Belgian-owned rival.