Czech ombudsman Otakar Motejl has expressed misgivings about fresh attempts by the northern town of Chomutov to reclaim debts. The town embarked on a fresh attempt to gather debts this week by sending in the bailiffs. Mr Motejl warned that the value of property seized should be in line with debts and pointed out that complaints indicate this has not always been the case. Some debtors have said that computers, televisions and hi-fi systems were seized because of debts of a few hundred crowns. Town mayor and Civic Democrat candidate in upcoming general elections, Ivana Řápková, already courted controversy earlier this year with her tough line to recover more than 240 million crowns in unpaid debts to the town hall. Initial measures included fines and intercepting benefit payments with some of the measures ruled illegal.
Around half of the estimated 1,000 currently operating Czech travel agencies will cease over the next three to five years according to a forecast by specialist travel business agency, Mag Consulting. It predicts that competition on the local market will get a lot tougher with large, established European travel firms entering the market. Four Czech travel agencies have collapsed this year, including one of the biggest, Tomi Tour.
The caretaker government of Prime Minister Jan Fischer announced Wednesday that it had agreed changes relaxing the scope of the so-called “muzzle law.” The sweeping law, which came into force in April, threatens journalists and media companies with prison sentences of up to five years or heavy fines if they reveal information about individuals involved in criminal investigations. The new law was described as an attack on media freedom by international media watchdogs. An amendment put to the cabinet by human rights minister, Michael Kocáb, would introduce a public interest defence for releasing information. The amendment could take effect from January 1, 2010, if it is backed by parliament.
In related news, the head of a pilots’ union at Czech Airlines has been reprimanded by company management for allegedly leaking internal information to the media. The airline said CZALPA union head Filip Gaspar had broken internal rules by leaking confidential and secret information. A statement from the union protested that he had merely commented on articles concerning safety and the threat of mass lay-offs. Mr Gaspar said the airline’s management is attempting to curb criticism from the unions.
Twenty-three political groups will be competing for support in October’s elections to the lower house, the CTK agency said on Wednesday. The deadline for candidates to register passed on the afternoon of August 26. The latest total is a decline on the 26 groups which fought the last lower house elections in 2006. As well as the traditional main parties, one of the more significant newcomers is the recently created TOP 09 party headed by former foreign minister Karel Schwarzenberg.
Czech health and interior ministries are fighting over whether all national and top local politicians are vaccinated against swine flu, according to the Czech press. The Ministry of Interior has advanced plans that all members of the government and parliament as well as top regional and local politicians are vaccinated, according to Wednesday’s edition of Mladá fronta dnes. The Ministry of Health says it is only considering vaccinations for a handful of ministers playing a central role in a possible health crisis. The government agreed last week to buy enough vaccine for half a million people with the main target of protecting health service staff.
Czech football star Pavel Nedvěd confirmed on Wednesday that his playing career is definitely over. The midfielder — who will be 37 at the end of this month — announced on his official website that he had turned down all the offers made to him in recent weeks to continue playing. He said he will devote himself to his family. The European player of the year in 2003 ended his career with top Italian club Juventus as the end of last season. He later, however, held out the possibility that he could continue playing outside Europe.
State-controlled carrier, Czech Airlines, warned on Wednesday that it is fighting for its very survival. Company president Radomír Lašák said in a press conference that unlike rivals, the airline has no cash reserves to cushion it from the current crisis hitting airlines worldwide. A 10 percent drop in passengers and similar fall in ticket prices has racked up a 1.8 billion crown, around 100 million dollars, loss for the airline in the first six months. It had planned for a loss of just 300 million crowns for the whole year. Mr Lašák outlined a three point programme to save the airline later in the day based upon a 30 percent cut in pilots’ pay, 15 percent wage cuts for other employees and a freeze on other benefits. If unions agreed to the deal then the current board would be willing to step down, he added.
An independent MP has lodged a challenge with the Constitutional Court against the holding of early elections on October 9 and 10. The Constitutional Court on Wednesday confirmed the complaint by non-aligned lower house MP Miloš Melčak against the law shortening the current parliament’s mandate and president’s decision to call early elections. Its spokesman refused to give further details before Thursday with Mr Melčak also refusing to elaborate. The two main political parties and Greens agreed to create a caretaker government pending early elections to the lower house following the no-confidence vote in former prime minister Mirek Topolánek’s government at the end of March. Mr Melčak was elected for the left-wing Social Democrats but switched his support to help pave the way for Mr Topolánek centre-right coalition. Constitutional experts said the complaint stands little chance of derailing the elections.
Finance Minister Eduard Janota has said that his proposals to lower next year’s budget deficit will be finished by Thursday, and that, upon their completion, Prime Minister Jan Fischer will meet the heads of this country’s two main political parties to talk them through. In an interview with Reuters on Tuesday, Mr Janota added that the meeting would show whether the heads of the two biggest Czech parties – the Social Democrats and the Civic Democrats – really were committed to lowering the budget deficit. Mr Janota has drafted a budget for 2010 with a record deficit of 230 billion crowns (nearly 13 billion USD), which amounts to nearly seven percent of GDP. The finance minister has also been working on proposals to amend the law which would bring the deficit down by 70 billion crowns (nearly 4 billion USD). Mr Janota has warned of dire consequences for the country if next year’s budget deficit is not reduced.
New foreigners’ law to change conditions for non-EU nationals
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