Czech military pilots who are to operate in Afghanistan next year, will undergo special training in the French Pyrenees in September, a Defence Ministry spokesperson told the CTK news agency. In recent weeks there has been speculation that the pilots do not feel well prepared for the mission and that they are concerned about insufficiently upgraded helicopters. According to the Defence Ministry the helicopters should be upgraded by the end of this year. Afterwards, the soldiers will have a few months to test them in mountainous terrain. They should be ready to go on their mission in the second half of 2009, if it is approved by the government and Parliament.
The Czech human rights organization Olympic Watch has appealed to all athletes taking part in the 2008 Olympics to support freedom and democracy in China, urging athletes to adopt a given prisoner of conscience and raise awareness of their fate. The Chinese regime refuses to link the games with human rights issues and has taken a tough line with protesters. Several people have been arrested and extradited for unfurling banners calling for human rights and freedoms.
The Czech National Bank has moved to cut its key short-term interest rate by a quarter of a point, to 3.50 percent, a bank spokeswoman said. The bank’s board decided to cut its refinancing rate for 15-day operations to 3.50 percent, the discount rate to 2.50 percent and the Lombard rate to 4.50 percent. It was the first cut in the bank's key rate since April 2005. Experts say the reduction was motivated by the strong crown.
Forty of the world’s top athletes, including Czech runner Jakub Holuša, have signed a petition calling for a free Tibet. In a public appeal to President Hu Jintao they urge a peaceful and democratic solution to the situation in Tibet, the release of all prisoners of conscience and respect for human rights. Twenty-year-old Jakub Holuša, who is Europe’s junior champion in the 3,000 metres steeplechase, said the appeal was in line with what the Olympic Games represented.
A seven-year-old girl from Ostrava, in Moravia, has died after eating a meal of poisonous mushrooms. A hospital spokesperson said the child had been brought in suffering from severe stomach pains and that despite intensive treatment doctors had been unable to save her life. Mushroom picking is a popular summer pastime in the Czech Republic and millions of Czechs pick wild mushrooms in the forest rather than shopping for them in the supermarket. Despite repeated warnings of the dangers, several people die of mushroom poisoning every year.
The Czech health authorities have warned of a heightened number of hepatitis A cases across the country. In the first seven months of this year the Health Ministry registered 130 patients with the disease, which is more than they had in the whole of 2007. Sixty-two hepatitis A cases were reported in the month of July alone. The illness is spreading mainly among drug addicts and the homeless and the majority of cases reported are in Prague, where the public has been warned not to underestimate the risk of infection. Vaccination of high risk groups is currently underway, but experts say it will be a while before the effects of that are felt.
Officers in Prague have collected 300,000 crowns in fines for alcohol consumption in public places where drinking is now off-limits. An alcohol ban was introduced in several parts of the city centre at the beginning of July of this year within the City Hall’s drive to make Prague a cleaner and safer city for both locals and tourists.
A new survey by the Median polling agency has found that a third of Czechs give priority to workplace success over matters of family. The survey also found that more men preferred work to family over women. However another finding suggested that 44% of Czechs do not seek to make extra money in their spare time, preferring instead to relax and enjoy themselves. Only 2% suggested that they prefer making more money on the side in their spare time.
New figures from the Czech Transport Ministry suggest that since the new points system was introduced for drivers in 2006 10,754 people have lost their licenses. Prior to the points system, drivers were able to pay fines for traffic violations, leading to criticism that drivers, particularly wealthy ones could essentially escape responsibility for reckless driving. The Czech government changed the rules in order to battle high numbers of traffic accidents in the country. The new figures also detail that 575, 731 drivers were given penalty points – there are currently an estimated 6.3 million driving license holders in the country according to the Transport Ministry. These numbers indicate that around 15 percent of drivers do not have so-called “clean licences” a number three percent lower than in Germany. Further evidence that the points system appears to be working is that fatalities on Czech roads have fallen by around ten percent from the previous year.
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