Outgoing Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek who is still at the helm of the
Czech EU presidency has been holding talks in Moldova in an effort to calm
tension following the communist party’s victory in the country’s
disputed parliamentary elections. After meeting with President Vladimir
Voronin, Prime Minister Zinaida Greceani and members of the opposition the
Czech prime minister said
he had received numerous documents and some evidence of potential
manipulation which he would pass on to EU foreign ministers next week.
He called for the establishment of a commission made up of government
officials, representatives of the opposition and international
Moldova’s opposition leaders insist the elections had been rigged, and
say they have evidence of over 20,000 irregularities, including two
different lists of voters.
Moldova is one of six former Soviet republics which have been invited to take part in the EU’s Eastern Partnership Programme to be launched at the bloc’s Prague summit on May 7. The Czech EU presidency has stressed the importance of forging closer ties with the former Soviet republics in order to motivate them on the road to democracy. The Eastern Partnership Programme aims to facilitate visa agreements, free trade deals and strategic partnership agreements.
As many as 41 percent of Czech companies have had to dismiss employees owing to the current economic crisis, according to a poll carried out by the Czech Business Chamber. More than one fifth of companies said they would have to consider winding up business unless the situation improved in the very near future. Almost 18 percent of firms said they had seen a decline in orders in a year-on-year comparison. Eight percent of companies have frozen their employees' wages, six percent have problems obtaining operating loans from banks and five percent have had to cut working hours temporarily.
The two-year-old girl who was injured in an arson attack on her home in Vítkov, north Moravia over the weekend, remains in critical condition. She suffered second and third degree burns on eighty percent of her body and doctors say her chances of survival are slim. Money and offers of help have been pouring in both from the Czech Republic and abroad. The Romany family whose house was burnt to the ground in the attack have been given temporary shelter. The police have asked the public to come forward and give evidence in the case. They have not yet officially confirmed a racial motif, but it is considered highly probable. The family’s house was set on fire by a group of men who threw petrol bombs in through the windows in the middle of the night. There have been torchings of other Romany houses in north Moravia in the past few years. No culprit was ever found.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso on Wednesday met with the newly appointed Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer, whose caretaker cabinet is due to take over the Czech EU presidency in May. Although the cabinet line-up has not yet been officially confirmed, the hot candidate for foreign minister Jan Kohout was also present at the talks. Mr. Barroso said the European Commission fully supported the Czech EU presidency and expressed the hope that the new cabinet would effect a smooth transition. The Fischer caretaker government is due to take over on May 9 and should rule the country until early elections in October.
Czech police have launched a recruitment campaign for 20 million crowns in order to fill more than 4500 vacancies, Police President Oldřich Martinu said on Wednesday. The campaign will involve the use of television shots, Internet ads and billboards posted around the country. The most severe shortage is reported in Prague and central Bohemia where the police force lacks approximately 15 percent of the required staff.
Iran has rebuked the Czech EU presidency for what it described as growing human rights violations in EU member states and insufficient action to combat racism. The Iranian Foreign Ministry on Tuesday summoned the Czech Republic’s chief envoy to Iran to inform him of a series of alleged EU “crimes” including the murder of human rights activists, the murder of foreigners by the police and the discrimination of Muslim minorities. The move came just a day after representatives of 23 EU member states walked out of the UN’s World Conference Against Racism in protest of an anti-Israel speech by the Iranian president. The Czech Republic and several other EU countries have refused to return to the conference which runs until April 24.
The Czech Defense Ministry is looking into complaints from the British military in Afghanistan after a Czech commander repeatedly refused to send his men into action. The Czech daily Mladá fronta Dnes reported on Wednesday that the Czechs were acquiring a reputation of cowards, after the commander of a special operations unit refused to take part in an anti-terrorist operation on the grounds that it was “too dangerous”. The paper said that after being let down on several occasions the Brits had started working with Danish troops instead, leaving the specially trained Czech unit to serve as bodyguards for diplomats.
Over sixty percent of Czechs are worried about loosing their job as a result of the crisis, according to the outcome of a poll conducted by the STEM agency. Eighty-eight percent of them say they would be willing to requalify or accept a worse paid job if they were laid off. Only thirty six-percent said they would be willing to move to a different part of the country where the chances of finding employment are higher.
The discrimination of Romanies in the Czech Republic is more widespread than in any other EU country, according to the results of a comparative study on the rights of minorities across Europe. Two thirds of Czech Romanies said they had been subjected to some form of discrimination in the past 12 months. Eighty-three percent of Czech Romanies feel that they do not have equal opportunities when it comes to getting an education, finding work, getting medical attention, being served in a restaurant or getting a bank loan.
Outgoing Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek predicted on Tuesday that the country will enjoy a modest growth of 0.5 percent next year. That will follow a decrease of not more than 2.0 percent this year, he added. Even so, Mr Kalousek predicted lower levels of tax income and increased government spending could mean that this year’s budget deficit will exceed 180 billion crowns. He said he would strive to curb the deficit at under 150 billion this year and next. The government originally aimed for the deficit this year to be around 115 billion crowns.