One of the largest Czech travel agencies, Tomi Tour, has declared bankruptcy, literally marooning some 3,000 of its clients currently on holiday outside the Czech Republic. Czech Airlines has announced it would be working with the Slovakian insurance company Union pojišťovna to send empty airliners for the stranded holidaymakers, who are mainly in Egypt, Majorca and Turkey. Approximately 10,000 people currently have trips purchased from Tomi Tour, and can apply for compensation from Union pojišťovna. Tomi Tour is the third travel agency in the Czech Republic to declare bankruptcy this summer. According to the Association of Czech Travel Agencies, its closure marks the industry’s most serious case of insolvency in the last 12 years.
Heavy weekend rainfall is causing concern of further flooding around the Czech Republic. Storms lasting through the night on Friday saw firemen sent to 75 areas around Central Bohemia, and continual showers with occasional torrential rains have put flood areas on alert across the country. The Czech Hydrometeorological Institute is forecasting heavy afternoon and evening storms with rainfall up to 50 millimetres an hour for the west of the Czech Republic. Heavy flooding at the end of June in South Bohemia and in northern and central Moravia caused 14 deaths, hundreds of evacuations and more than 6 billion crowns in damages.
Interim Prime Minister Jan Fischer has expressed interest in the post of Czech EU commissioner, the daily Lidové noviny has reported. The newspaper cited unnamed sources on Friday saying that the former head of the Czech Statistical Office, leading the country’s caretaker government, was reassessing plans to return to his former post after the autumn election. The daily reported that Mr Fischer had now expressed interest in the post of commissioner instead. According to Lidové noviny, Mr Fischer’s chances are not high: members of the country’s two largest parties, the Civic and Social Democrats, have made clear their parties are eying other candidates.
New Canadian visa restrictions require that Czechs provide more personal information on visa applications than other citizens of EU states. The situation was reported by Czech Television and TV Prima on Friday and confirmed by the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Czech visa applicants are required to provide specific information on their employment, residence and income, as well as that of their parents and partners. According to diplomatic agreements in place, however, Czech citizens should have the same conditions as other EU countries. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has stated it would demand an explanation from the Canadian embassy next week. Canada reintroduced visa requirements on Czech citizens during the week in reaction to the high number of asylum applications from the Czech Republic - mostly from members of the Roma community.
The head of Czech Radio, Václav Kasík, has told Lidové noviny he came under pressure from numerous lobbyists warning him to step down - or risk being recalled from his post. In an interview for the newspaper on Friday, Mr Kasík said that the pressure had political roots and vowed not to give up. Mr Kasík has headed Czech Radio - home to a number of stations including Radio Prague - since 1999. He began his second six year term in 2005. Lidové noviny wrote that Mr Kasík’s post was offered up as part of an alleged backroom deal initiated by top members of the Social and Civic Democrats: the post was supposedly to have been freed up for the head of Czech TV, Jiří Janeček, had he given up his bid to continue as general director of the public broadcaster. He did not and was re-elected as Czech TV head this week.
Customs officials have uncovered an illegal cigarette manufacturing plant, the third such discovery of this year. 620,000 cigarettes and 7,300 kilos of tobacco were confiscated near the town of Nymburk, east of Prague, and customs estimated the potential tax damage at 13 million crowns. Police reported that the production was organised by a group of foreigners residing illegally in the Czech Republic, and that the cigarettes were intended for sale in England. The total tax evasion from the potential sale of illegally manufactured cigarettes uncovered this year has been estimated at 175 million crowns.
The newly formed centre-right party, TOP 09, has announced that former Christian Democrat chairman and finance minister Miroslav Kalousek will be standing for parliament in early elections at the top of the party’s ballot in Central Bohemia. Last week the party announced another notable candidate, former foreign minister Karel Schwarzenberg, who is to lead the party’s Prague ballot. Mr Kalousek and Mr Schwarzenberg formed the party at the end of May, however it was uncertain whether the two popular politicians would themselves stand as candidates. Polls have suggested that TOP 09 will likely pass the 5% threshold required to win seats in parliament.
The Constitutional Court has upheld a six-year prison sentence for former Communist prosecutor Ludmila Brožová-Polednová. Her defence had put forward a complaint to the court which was rejected on Friday. Mrs Brožová-Polednová is guilty of playing a role in the judicial murder of democratic politician Milada Horáková. In 1950, following a Stalinist show-trial, Mrs Horáková was sentenced to death on trumped up charges of espionage and treason.
In related news, the Romany community in Canada is filing a lawsuit against the Canadian immigration minister, Jason Kenny. The community is reportedly disconcerted by the minister’s claim that many among them are applying for asylum for no good reason, and thus complicating the situation for those truly in need of asylum in the country. According to a lawyer for the Romany community in Canada, the statement was an attempt on Mr Kenny’s part to influence the commission responsible for granting asylum, and has made it more difficult for Romany to have their applications reviewed objectively.
The Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kohout has said that he knew at the end of June that Canada was planning to reinstate visa requirements for Czechs, but said that he had expected formal notification before the move went ahead. Speaking on Czech TV on Thursday Mr Kohout explained that Canada’s minister for immigration, Jason Kenney, had warned him of the decision on June 29 during an informal meeting. Mr Kohout also said that he was asked not to make the move public, which he said he could not do in any case before he had received formal notification. Czech officials were informed six hours in advance that Canada would reinstate visas this week. The move was taken by the country in reaction to the high number of asylum applications from the Czech Republic - mostly from members of the Roma community.
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