The daily Mladá fronta Dnes reports that Brussels will give the Czech Republic one month to resolve irregularities in EU-funded education projects before it cancels the funding. An EC audit earlier this week criticised the Czech Education Ministry for using the funding for exorbitant salaries, needlessly expensive computers, favouring certain contractors and making payments that have nothing to do with the funded projects. The audit writes that the ministry lacks any system of checks, and that what checks there are, are not conducted at regular intervals.
Outside of the abovementioned, media reported that there was virtually no news whatsoever in the Czech Republic on Saturday. On-duty journalists around the country faced the least newsworthy day in recent memory by staring at walls for countless hours on Saturday, with some threatening to burn down parts of their offices just to cover the story. Others prepared templates for drunk-driving and fireworks accident stories to be used later in the evening. Mainstream media outlets have eluded the problem by reporting on the cold weather expected in January. The situation is expected to improve slightly over the course of the year.
Intrepid German revellers are continuing to buy dangerous fireworks at Vietnamese markets on the Czech border, despite numerous warnings from officials. According to the German daily Frankensteinpost, the fireworks sold at the markets are often uncertified and contain extremely volatile gunpowder. The paper writes that a police examination showed that five of the larger illicit fireworks were enough to blow up the trunk of a Volkswagen Polo. The amount of licit Vietnamese gunpowder needed to blow up the trunk of a VW Polo is yet unknown.
In the last major commemoration of the death of former president Václav Havel, a boat laden with funerary flowers and wreaths launched from Prague on Saturday to begin a three-day trek along the Vltava and Elbe rivers. The boat left a pier near Mr Havel’s family home at Rašinovo Nábřeží in central Prague and will reach Mělník on the same day, continuing on to Ústí nad Labem and finally Děčín. The wreaths and flowers will then be thrown into the river. Václav Havel died in his sleep on the morning of December 18th after a prolonged illness. He was 75 years old.
In other bad news, preliminary police reports show there has been a large rise in road fatalities during December. Compared with 37 fatalities in November, 53 people lost their lives in traffic-related accidents in December and 200 were injured. Police investigated nearly 7000 accidents during December, most of which were caused by improper driving and speeding. Accidents involving alcohol amounted to 418.
Explosions could be heard across Prague and other Czech cities on Saturday evening, often accompanied by flashes of light and crackling noises. Large numbers of people took cover in dining and drinking establishments, from which many later emerged in poor physical condition, incapable of normal motor and verbal skills. Public singing, widely thought to have been banned in the Czech lands, broke out in a number of locations, firstly in Prague’s Žižkov area in the early afternoon and spreading quickly thereafter to the rest of the country. A certain “Sylvester” is believed to be responsible for the abnormalities.
A new poll released by the STEM agency suggests that a majority of Czechs do not think the centre-right government will be able to significantly reel in the growing state deficit. Almost 80 percent, according to the survey, are sceptical the goal can be achieved, up 20 percent from one year ago; only two percent think it can be a success. Just like last year, three-quarters of Czechs think that the increasing deficit is one of the country’s number one problems.
Education Minister Josef Dobeš is under pressure to resign over irregularities in EU-funded projects. Brussels announced a day earlier that the Czech Education Ministry may see its EU funding suspended over irregularities in public procurement. Auditors from Brussels have advised suspending all further payments from the Education for Competitiveness Operational Programme until the matter is cleared up. EU funding at the ministry has been plagued by problems in recent years. On Wednesday the ministry’s fifth head of section in charge of EU funds, Robert Plaga, unexpectedly resigned after just eight working days in the post. Minister Dobeš has requested a meeting with the prime minister.
Czech hockey star Jaromír Jágr led the Philadelphia Flyers to a 4:2 win on Thursday over his former club in the NHL the Pittsburgh Penguins (with whom he earned two Stanley Cup rings back in the early 1990s). The player scored what nhl.com described as a “stellar” goal against the Penguins in front of a tough and “energised” crowd. The Czech news site idnes, meanwhile, reported that Penguins fans booed the star Czech player but that Jágr joked after the game that he thought they were chanting they loved him. After scoring, the player skated to the glass where he ‘saluted’ – a famous gesture used in the past by Jágr that Penguins fans no doubt recognised.
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