Czech industrial output fell for the sixth time in a row in March on a 12-month basis, but the pace slowed down to 17 percent from 23.4 percent in February, official data showed on Tuesday. On a monthly basis, output slid by 0.2 percent. Car production continued to decrease with a 14.3 percent fall on the year, metal production fell by 32.1 percent and machinery output dropped by 26.1 percent. Poland, Hungary and Slovakia have also reported slower declines in industrial output for March, indicating that the worst of the crisis is over.
Top Social Democrats warned on Tuesday that they might not back the current caretaker government in a vote of confidence if it did not support the abolition of health charges. The warning was made by Social Democrats David Rath and Zdeňek Škromach as the lower house of parliament prepared to debate health charges. The main left-wing party has been angered by the stand of new health minister Dana Jurásková in favour of charges. The new caretaker government only took office last Friday with the Social Democrats and centre-right Civic Democrats having had the main say in its creation.
The new Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer is visiting the EU headquarters in Brussels on Tuesday in a bid to shore up confidence in his country's EU presidency following a change-of-guard in Prague. The interim prime minister expressed the hope after a meeting with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso that the Czechs should complete ratification of the EU’s reforming Lisbon treaty soon. Only President Václav Klaus is holding up the process of by refusing to sign the treaty into law. Mr Fischer added later that President Klaus should not chair the EU’s June summit. He was later scheduled to meet employment commissioner Vladimír Špidla and Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy. Prime Minister Fischer has repeatedly stressed that his interim government would do its utmost to ensure a smooth transition and fulfil the country’s role as EU leader.
In football, František Straka has been named the new national manager in a surprise move by the country’s federation. Straka takes over from Petr Rada who was sacked in April after winning just two of his six World Cup qualification games. That left the Czech Republic with a mountain to climb and the fiery 50 year old now charged with leading that assault. Straka has a mixed managerial record. He managed Teplice between 2002 and 2004 followed by a stint in charge of his beloved Sparta Prague. He picked up the Czech Cup with both. Most recently he has taken charge at a series of small clubs abroad. He was sacked at the latest of these after a series of eight games without a win in the Greek league.
The Catholic Church has lodged a complaint over the Supreme Court’s March decision that the state is the rightful owner of Prague’s St. Vitus’ Cathedral. The complaint alleges that the procedures leading to the decision were unfair. The move is the latest round in a long-running legal battle between church and state over the famous landmark. Prague’s cathedral, which is both a religious symbol and an historic symbol of the Czech kingdom and state, is the most visited cathedral in the country and home of the Czech crown jewels.
In related news, one of the Civic Democrat senators leading moves to launch a new challenge at the Czech Constitutional Court to the EU’s Lisbon treaty has said it should be prepared within two months. Senator Jiří Oberfalzer made the comments after a meeting with Czech President and eurosceptic Václav Klaus. He added that he already had the 17 signatures needed to launch the challenge. The Senate vote last week in favour of the Lisbon treaty has opened up a war of words with President Klaus who has attacked what he described as a betrayal. Senate chairman Přemysl Sobotka has hit back, reminding the Czech president that the upper chamber is a sovereign body to which Mr. Klaus owed his re-election as head of state.
The 64th Prague International Spring music festival was launched on Tuesday with a commemoration ceremony at the grave of Czech composer Bedřich Smetana at Prague’s Vyšehrad cemetary. This year’s festival offers more than 50 concerts and eight theatrical presentations. Star performers include Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Florez, American mezzo soprano Susan Graham and Czech soprano Martina Janková. The festival lasts until June 3.
Czech unemployment rose to 7.9 percent in April from March’s 7.7 percent, the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs announced on Tuesday. The latest rise takes the jobless total to just over 445,000. April’s jump was bigger than most analysts expected and is the highest rate since April 2007. They warn that the unemployment total will creep up to around 9.0 percent by the end of the year.
The Czech president is to receive the head of the eurosceptic party Libertas Declan Ganley at Prague Castle on Wednesday. Mr. Ganley last week welcomed the Czech president’s decision not to sign the Lisbon treaty into law, despite its ratification by both houses of Parliament. Libertas’s leader said President Klaus was standing by the people of Ireland and would not ratify the treaty without their consent.
The Czech police have cracked down on a group of Vietnamese involved in illegal production and distribution of cigarettes in the Czech Republic and Germany. A special unit seized 9.5 million cigarettes, 15 tons of tobacco, several hundred thousand cigarette stamps, seven cars and three million crowns in cash when detaining the suspects. The group allegedly shipped raw tobacco leaves from Vietnam and China and operated a secret production line in the Czech Republic which could put out 2,500 cigarettes per minute. Some were sold in the Czech Republic, the rest smuggled to Germany. Seven Vietnamese nationals have been charged with tax fraud.
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