The opposition parties are preparing to block speedy approval of the government’s austerity package, acting Social Democrat leader Bohuslav Sobotka told journalists today. The measures include partial cancellation of birth allowances, changes in the payment of parental allowances and reduced contribution to care for the disabled. Fifty votes against the proposal in its first reading would make it unlikely to pass through Parliament this year, as it would then have to undergo the routine three readings in the lower house. The austerity package is part of the government's plan to reduce the budget deficit. It must also be approved by the Senate and President Vaclav Klaus.
The Velká Pardubická, the Czech Republic’s premiere steeplechase, was won on Sunday by 57-year-old jockey Josef Váňa on Tiumen in a photo-finish. It is the seventh time Mr Váňa has won the event and the second win for 9-year-old Tiumen. The victory was contested by second place Marek Stromský on Amant Gris, who found himself momentarily hemmed in between Tiumen and the fence in the homestretch. Váňa was fined 500 crowns for the infraction but it was found to have no impact on the result. Third place was taken by two-time winner Sixteen jockeyed by Josef Bartoš.
The company that owns the chateau that houses the Slav Epic, Incheba Praha, will not prevent the City of Prague from relocating the paintings after reaching an agreement with the City Gallery Prague. The gallery apologised to Incheba on Monday for using a security agency to prohibit representatives of Moravský Krumlov from entering the premises while the paintings were being packaged on Friday and promised to provide the company with detailed information on the relocation in the future. Incheba says it still wants an apology for the arrogant attitude taken by the City of Prague in the situation. The two municipalities have been fighting through the courts for possession of the masterpiece for months, with a restraining order against their relocation being overturned last week.
Wine makers in the Czech Republic are expecting one of the worst harvests a decade. According to estimates, the grape harvest will be half of the average for the last ten years, and the association of Czech wine growers says that the prices of Moravian wines in particular will rise by about 10% in the next year as the shortage will be supplemented by grape imports. On the other hand the association does expect better quality wine this year in spite of the fact that sugar content was initially low. Only a fourth of the harvest has been completed thus far and later varieties contain more sugar.
Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek says that the government could use sales of emissions vouchers to compensate for rising electricity prices next year. Mr Kalousek told reporters today that the income from that alternative should amount to 90 billion crowns between 2013 and 2020. The next meeting of the cabinet will discuss the proposal, which was initially put forward by the Confederation of Industry. Prime Minister Petr Nečas however noted two of the proposal’s short comings: that the vouchers will not be available until 2014, and that they constitute only a temporary solution to high prices caused by solar energy plants. Energy prices are set to rise by 12 and 17% next year for households and businesses, respectively; the government has said it wants to keep the increases to less than 10%.
Police have arrested a man for possession of depleted uranium near the east Bohemian town of Svitavy. The material was discovered on Friday in a home the man used in the village of Bělá nad Svitavou. The 45-year-old suspect’s mother told reporters he had a history of mental health problems and was interested in chemical experiments using freely available substances. He is also under investigation in Germany, where a search of his flat in the town of Koblenz uncovered chemicals of unknown origin, fuses and firearms.
The 2010 Czech Press Photo award for photojournalism has gone to Martin Bandžák, a freelance photographer from Slovakia, for a portrait of a girl seriously injured after January’s earthquake in Haiti. The international jury cited Bandžák’s photograph for the strength of its simplicity and said it was powerfully impressive at first sight. Pictures from Haiti also won the Reporting category, in which first place was taken by Jarmila Kovaříková for a survey of life in the country following the catastrophe. The overall winner receives a monetary award of CZK 120,000 and the Crystal Eye trophy. Nearly 300 photographers with permanent residence in the Czech and Slovak Republics were entered in this year’s 16th competition. The awards ceremony will take place on November 18.
A poll carried out by the Median agency for the daily Lidové Noviny suggests that 64% of Czechs do not believe that the coalition government is having any success in battling corruption. Praguers were most critical, with 79% saying the current direction was unsatisfactory compared to 55% elsewhere in Bohemia and 63% in Moravia. Voters of the Public Affairs party were most appreciative of the government’s efforts thus far, with 67% giving a positive assessment compared to about five percent of Social Democrat and Communist voters. Prime Minister Petr Nečas said of the poll that it would be almost suspicious if the government had been able to have made gains in fighting corruption after only three months.
A survey carried out by the polling agency STEM suggests that 70% of Czechs are opposed to adopting the common European currency, the lowest level of support in the last five years. STEM says it believes the numbers are influenced by recent reports that the stability of the euro has been jeopardised by the indebtedness of certain EU states. 48% of respondents said they believed the European Union itself was going in the right direction, and 51% of those were in favour of adopting the euro.
Former Czech president Václav Havel has warned that if mankind does not change its approach, civilisation faces disaster. Mr Havel made the comments on the eve of a conference of his Forum 2000 foundation in Prague. He said that to avoid catastrophe, humanity needed to fight its short-sightedness, bovine belief in its omniscience and swollen pride. Speakers at the 14th Forum 2000 conference, which began on Monday morning, include Iranian human rights campaigner Shirin Ebadi, Cuban dissident Jose Luis Garcia Paneque and British writer Misha Glenny.
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