Czech police have said they will reopen an investigation into the sale of the country’s second biggest coal mining company, Mostecká Uhelná. The case was running for almost a decade until it was shelved a year ago. The reopening follows the discovery of new evidence by the Swiss general prosecutor who launched an investigation in the Spring, according to Czech Television. The investigation centres on suspicions the 1998 acquisition of the company – now re-named Czech Coal – could have been funded by billions of crowns which should have been set aside for re-cultivation of former mining sites but found its way into foreign bank accounts.
Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer on Tuesday welcomed expressions of EU solidarity over Canada’s re-imposition of visas on Czechs. But Mr Fischer underlined that what Prague is really seeking is EU action that would force Canada to return to a visa-free regime. The prime minister was speaking after a meeting with President Václav Klaus. EU foreign ministers on Monday voiced their solidarity with the Czech Republic over the re-imposition of visas on July 14 but did not discuss retaliatory steps. The European Commission should first of all come up with its stand by September. Canadian authorities said on Tuesday they had given out 1,360 visas so far with less than 1.0 percent of applications refused.
Sparta Prague take the field against Greek team Panathinaikos on Tuesday night for a chance of playing in the European Champions League. The first leg of the third pre-qualifying round offers the Czech side a chance of revenge. The Athenian team blocked Sparta’s chances of a place in the top European competition last year with wins at home and away. Sparta Prague has not featured in the Champions League for the last three seasons.
Czech police are also facing budget problems. In this case, money for covering operational expenses is short to the tune of around 900 million crowns. This threatens the force with being unable to fuel patrol cars, pay energy bills or buy paper. On the other hand, a shortage of around 3,500 staff nationwide means that the force is saving even more on the wages bill. Minister of Interior Martin Pecina said on Tuesday that the government should rush through changes that will allow unspent cash from one section of the budget to be used in another. The entire system should be overhauled next year so that budgets corresponded with costs, he said.
The number of women undergoing abortions in the Czech Republic rose last year. The Institute of Health Information and Statistics said 2008’s total climbed to 41,446 cases compared with 40,917 a year earlier. This translates into 16.35 abortions per 1,000 women of child bearing age. The institute said the slight rise in abortions was partly explained by the trend of women postponing childbirth till later in life when the risks are higher. Even so, the number of abortions has fallen to a quarter of the level it was in the early 1990’s. That is largely thanks to the greater availability of the birth control pill.
A government news conference was disrupted on Monday when a man started heckling Minister for Human Rights and Minorities Michael Kocáb. When the floor opened for questions after the conference, an elderly gentleman took the microphone and complained that while minorities were represented and lobbied for by Mr Kocáb, pensioners received no such aid from the minister. The gentleman refused to hand over the microphone when asked. News website Novinky.cz reported that the heckler was unhappy about a rise in the price of his rent and complained that Mr Kocáb was offering him no protection, unlike, he said, the young squatters recently evicted from Prague’s Milada squat, for whom the minorities and human rights’ minister found replacement accommodation.
A further 20 cases of swine flu were registered in the Czech Republic over the weekend, the Health Ministry said on Monday, bringing the total number of cases in this country to 63. According to the ministry, the majority of those infected did not need hospital treatment and were recovering in isolation at home, without needing to use antivirals. A spokesperson for the ministry added that none of those infected displayed any signs of further health complications, and that all of the patients were on course to make a full recovery. The new cases were mostly registered in people who had returned to the Czech Republic from abroad, notably Great Britain, the United States and Spain, though several of the patients had not recently left the country, and had contracted the virus from those they had been in contact with here.
The Czech Interior Ministry’s voluntary repatriation scheme will be extended to cover illegal immigrants as of September 14, a ministry spokesperson said on Monday. So far, 1871 people have taken part in the government’s repatriation scheme, which offered foreigners recently made redundant in this country a free plane ticket home and a lump sum of 500 euros. The illegal aliens who choose to take part in the scheme will in some cases have to pay for their own transport home, and will subsequently be banned from the Czech Republic for up to three years. The Interior Ministry has said previously that the controversial project is to help reduce the risk of crime committed by unemployed foreigners in the Czech Republic.
The Czech Communist Party has said that it is ready to apologise for wrongs committed under communism in the former Czechoslovakia if that leads to closer cooperation with the centre-left Social Democrat Party after October’s elections. On Monday, Communist leader Vojtěch Filip told Hospodářské noviny that ‘the left’s cooperation’ was ‘in everyone’s best interest’ and that his party was ready to say sorry, if that would lead to closer ties between the two parties. According to Hospodářské noviny, however, the Social Democrats have no interest in such a deal. Deputy Chairman of the Social Democrats Zdeněk Škromach told the paper that the Communists could well apologise, but that this would not change anything. The Communist Party already apologised for past wrongs after the Velvet Revolution in 1989.
The European Union will not make a decision on whether to re-impose visas for Canadians until the autumn, Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kohout said in Brussels on Monday. The Czech Republic has asked the EU to consider introducing visas for Canadians in retaliation to Ottawa’s decision to re-introduce visas for Czechs. According to Mr Kohout on Monday, however, the EU’s response first has to be considered by the European Commission and nothing will be decided upon before September. Following two years of visa-free travel, Canada reintroduced visas for Czechs on July 14 after thousands of Czech Roma applied for asylum.
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