Police are investigating a tragedy in the village of Široký Důl, Svitavy: the murder of four siblings. Police and rescue workers were alerted to the scene at noon on Friday: investigators have not revealed details but the daily Právo reported the victims were between the ages of 10 and just two months. Their family had reportedly only just moved to the village. According to available information, the children had cuts and strangulation wounds. The mother, herself cut, reportedly tried to hang herself and is in hospital in critical condition. The police expressed shock over the tragedy, saying it was the worst such incident in recent memory.
Around 300 people took part in a rally in Varnsdorf, North Bohemia, on Friday protesting against local Roma residents; the municipality has seen a rise in violent crime and tension between the ethnic Roma and non-Roma communities in recent weeks, leading the police to reinforce patrols in the area. Demonstrators attempted to march to a local boarding house, and the crowd grew to 500 hundred, but participants were stopped by riot police. No incidents were reported. Officially the protest was supposed to have been against nuclear waste. The rally was reportedly organized by Lukáš Kohout, who was caught in 2002 pretending to be an aide to former MP and former foreign minister Jan Kavan.
Prime Minister Petr Nečas – as well as a number of other Czech politicians – have come out against a Defence Ministry plan to partially reintroduce compulsory military service – namely in posts the army is having trouble filling. According to public broadcaster Czech TV, the military does not have enough drivers, pilots, mechanics or IT specialists. In a brief interview for Právo, the prime minister indicated different solutions were needed – pointing to Great Britain’s reserve troop system as an example. Other politicians interviewed by the paper, also against the plan, include the deputy chairman of the lower house’s defence committee, Jan Vidím, and Social Democrat shadow defence minister Jan Hamáček. The Czech Republic abolished compulsory military service on December 31st, 2004.
Czech actress Iva Janžurová and former Czech president and playwright Václav Havel were awarded honorary citizenship of Prague 6 on Friday by the district’s mayor, Marie Kousalíková. At the ceremony Mr Havel was accompanied by his wife Dagmar; it was the former president’s first public appearance in some time. Due to poor health and in order to recover his strength, Mr Havel, who turns 75 in October, has been staying at his cottage. Friday’s ceremony was held at the Břevnov monastery.
In related news, government MPs on Friday approved raising the lower VAT rate affecting some goods and services from the previous 10 to 14 percent. The move will raise the prices of medicines, foodstuff, public transport, as well as books, newspapers and concert tickets in 2012, Mladá fronta Dnes reported. Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek told the daily that by conservative estimates the lower VAT rate increase would bring in an additional 22 billion crowns. The prime minister, meanwhile, stressed that the increase would not be dramatic but the opposition Social Democrats have said that they will lower the rate if they win the next election, at least regarding food and medicine. Petr Nečas’s centre-right government aims to unify the existing higher and lower VAT rates at 17.5 percent in 2013.
The Czech Republic will next year provide 350 troops for the European Union’s battle groups, the Czech chief of general staff Vlastimil Picek said after meeting with the chairman of the EU military committee Hakan Syren in Prague on Thursday. The Czech army will provide a mechanized company complete with logistics support, Mr Picek said. The EU’s military contingent will consist of 2,800 soldiers from six countries including Germany, Austria, Croatia, Macedonia and Ireland; it will be deployed on humanitarian, peace-keeping and reconstruction missions.
The new school year started on Thursday, with 1.2 million children going back to school. Czech President Václav Klaus welcomed students at a secondary school in Ostrava, which is run by his son, Václav Klaus Jr., while Education Minister Josef Dobeš marked the start of the school year at an elementary school in the Prague district of Žižkov. Mr Klaus noted that unlike Czech universities and secondary schools, the country’s elementary school system is doing well in comparison with schools abroad. The school year 2011-2012 brings several changes, including a trial run of contracts between schools and parents to help alleviate increasing problems with misbehaved children.
Czech mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kožená cancelled on Thursday all her concerts and appearances in September over health problems, her manager David Dittrich told reporters on Thursday. Mr Dittrich said the problems were not serious and were not related to her vocal cords. The 38-year-old Berlin-based opera singer was scheduled to appear at concerts in Switzerland and the city of Brno.
Greek Prime Minister Georgios Papandreu berated on Thursday Czech President Václav Klaus over his recent comments about lazy ouzo drinkers. Mr Klaus told the Czech daily Právo on Saturday it was absolutely fine if Greeks choose to spend more hours drinking ouzo under cypress trees; in that case, however they cannot form a monetary union with Germany, the Czech president added. The Czech news agency quoted the Greek prime minister as saying that Mr Klaus expressed his populist anti-Europeanism by offending Greeks. Should Europe not overcome such views, Mr Papandreu said, it will once again suffer fragmentation and its people will lose the achievements reached in the last 60 years.
The deficit of Czech public finances in August reached 87.3 billion crowns, up from 61.1 billion in July, the Czech Finance Ministry said on Thursday. While revenues dropped by 3.8 billion year-on-year, expenditures rose annually by 4.8 billion crowns. Analysts said the increase was slightly higher than expected. The government approved an overall budget deficit for this year of 135 billion crowns, or 3.6 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.
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