Defence Minister Vondra himself told reporters later on Thursday that he had himself neither negotiated nor signed the allegedly suspicious contract with the Promopro, and that he had in fact known nothing of it. Mr Vondra suggested that the information publicised about the contract may be part of a campaign to discredit him and the Civic Democratic Party.
Specialists have opened a crypt beneath the famous Sedlec Ossuary in the Central Bohemian town of Kutná Hora. The crypt was built on to the ossuary in 1710 by the celebrated architect Jan Blažej Santini and has not been opened since 1833. Thursday’s reopening was part of a study seeking to determine why the monument is gradually tilting; probes will be dug in order to determine the structure’s disposition. According to historical records, the crypt contains the remains of 14 local townsmen.
In related news, Czech Roman Catholic bishops criticized on Wednesday the doctors’ protest campaign in which physicians have handed in resignations in a bid to get higher salaries. In a statement issued after their regular meeting, the bishops said doctors’ representatives were threatening with sanctions against their patients whom they take hostage for their demands. The bishops also warned that without a mutual interest in one another, the society was falling apart.
The Czech Senate has issued a condemnation of Belarus for its crackdown on demonstrators after presidential elections in December. The declaration called the police raid brutal and called for the release of all unlawfully detained and imprisoned protestors. Hundreds people were arrested in the raids, including seven out of nine of President Alexandr Lukashenko’s rivals for the office, and several dozen face up to 15 years imprisonment. Senator and Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg told the chamber that the president’s regime was a pure dictatorship that could not be suffered and said he would push for strong measures against the country in the EU. The declaration is the second the Czech Senate has made against the Lukashenko regime, having condemned the repression of human and political rights in 2000.
Prime Minister Petr Nečas sharply contradicted claims that the person responsible for the office from which the order came was current Defence Minister Alexandr Vondra, who was then deputy prime minister in the government of Mirek Topolánek and chaired the government’s section for the Czech EU presidency. Mr Nečas said the press was once again spreading artificial mistruths and that it was never Mr Vondra but another government official, Jan Novák, whose section had been responsible for such commissions. Mr Novák however says he had been assured in writing by Mr Vondra’s office that the contract with Promopro was problem-free and would involve a sum of 70 to 80 million crowns.
Czechs are sceptical when it comes to the future of society in general, according to a poll conducted by the polling agency Medea Research. The most pessimistic views regarded the social atmosphere, which 2/5 expect will worsen, the political situation, which 41% expect to worsen, and corruption (40%). Views on future economic developments were mostly equal among three camps expecting improvement, deterioration or the status quo. In terms of personal expectations more than half of people anticipated nothing “better or worse" with regards to relationships, housing and employment.
Health Minister Leos Heger has presented three reform bills that he says will bring better-quality health care, quicker, more accessible emergency service and extend patients' rights. Mr Heger said the reforms, which will be presented to the government’s legislative council in June, would allow health care finances to better cover the salaries of personnel. The ministry is currently overwhelmed with a salary protest among hospital doctors, whose planned resignation could paralyse some hospital wards. He confirmed on Thursday that he had received a go-ahead from the government coalition to negotiate with the dissatisfied doctors, but declined to elaborate, saying he would like to convey the plan to the doctors first. Some 280 billion crowns flows through the Czech health care system a year. The Transparency International corruption watchdog says more than 27 billion are annually wasted due to corruption and vague rules.
Prime Minister Petr Necas warned against Holocaust denial on Thursday at a commemorative event held in the Senate marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The Prime Minister said that denial of the Holocaust was an “evil of today that is a direct continuation of the evil of yesterday”. The commemoration was also attended by representatives of the Federation of Czech Jewish Communities, Holocaust survivors, Romany representatives and politicians. International Holocaust Remembrance Day marks the liberation of the largest Nazi extermination camp in Auschwitz on January 27, 1945.
The Ministry of Finance has filed a criminal complaint regarding questionable, multimillion-crown payments made by the Office of the Government during 2009. Police sources say the case involves an overpriced order for audio-visual equipment from the private company Promopro that was assigned without an official tender. The equipment was to be used for events surrounding the Czech EU presidency in the first half of 2009. The order was justified as exempt from tender, as Promopro was said to have an exclusive position on the market in question. An in-depth audit of the Office of the Government carried out by the Finance Ministry found that claim to have been unsubstantiated and untrue. The audit found that while the approved expenditure for audio-visual equipment was 85 million, Promopro had charged the government more than three-quarters of a billion crowns, 525 million of which it received directly.
Archaeologists working in the Blanka Tunnel construction site near Prague Castle have discovered 24 tombs that they believe are either from the Thirty Years War in the 17th century or the War of the Austrian Succession a hundred years later. The discovery means a further delay for completion of the tunnel, as the researchers believe dozens more graves lay in the vicinity. Prehistoric artefacts from roughly 7,000 years ago have also been found in the area. The Archaeological Institute predicts a delay of four months, but says it is impossible to be certain as each scoop of a bulldozer brings up more findings.
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