Czech Defence Minister Alexandr Vondra has told the Czech news agency, ČTK, he is in favour of Czech soldiers’ involvement in Afghanistan being extended to 2014. The mandate for their current presence there will expire at the end of 2012. Mr Vondra made the statement before arriving in Washington for talks with US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta. He did not go into details about the strength of the future contingent but allowed that helicopter crews could remain as well as training specialists, while Czech special forces would terminate their mission this year. The US itself wants to withdraw its forces by 2014 if local conditions allow ČTK notes. Currently the Czech Republic has some 600 troops in Afghanistan.
Police in Prague last year recorded the second lowest rate of homicide since 1990. The metropolis saw 29 cases of murder in 2011, of which 26 were solved. Only the previous year, 2010, saw fewer homicides, when 22 cases were investigated. The total number of punishable offences however rose in 2011 by roughly 10%. The majority of cases, 57%, were committed by repeat offenders, while first-time offenders were responsible for only 5% of solved crimes. Police also recorded a rise in wilful property damage while other property crimes, such as car theft, were down. Crime in Prague accounted for nearly a fourth of criminality in the Czech Republic.
President Václav Klaus has attacked critics of planned higher education reforms, saying they were playing the academic freedom card insincerely. Speaking to Czech Radio on Tuesday, the president said he was outraged by the reactions of academics to the proposals, which he said were essential. The issue, he said, was about state schools that the state had the right to make decisions about, and academics should not fight against tuition while seeking independence from the state. Students and professors hold that the reforms limit the institutions’ freedom by increasing the influence that politics and business have on science. Deans of public colleges are discussing their concerns with the Education Minister Josef Dobeš on Tuesday.
The Club for Old Prague and neighbours at Hradčany in Prague have filed a complaint with the zoning commission against the refurbishment of a historical building to become the Václav Havel Library. The contested modifications to the 16th century building include primarily the scope of the cellar under the courtyard, which they say is overdesigned, superfluous and could endanger the stability of even the surrounding buildings. Neighbours are also concerned that the construction could open underground water sources.
Speaking to journalists on Tuesday amid negotiations on the fiscal discipline pact in Brussels, Mr Kalousek also said that no one in the EU understands the position of the Czech cabinet, which wants Prague´s accession to the planned deal to be decided in a referendum. Mr Kalousek is deputy chairman of TOP 09, which opposes a referendum but was outvoted by its coalition partners, who insist the planned treaty changes basic EU legislation and transfers further national powers to Brussels. The fiscal discipline treaty is meant to tighten the EU´s supervision of national budgets and will be discussed at the EU summit on Monday.
The number of people who believe the current system promises a better future than the communist regime is at its lowest point since 1993. According to a January poll carried out by the STEM agency, only slightly more than half of the population think the current regime is better than the one before November of 1989. That percentage fell by five points since last year’s survey. Younger and more educated people were more likely to assess the current system positively, as were entrepreneurs and right-wing voters.
The defence minister also negotiated a treaty in Washington on Tuesday that will allow Czech companies to seek military orders in the United States. The agreement will give Czech contractors an equal position with American and European companies and may be signed in the spring. The treaty will also apply to security and rescue services and will allow Czechs to compete for commissions for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), among others. Poland signed a similar treaty with the United states in September of last year.
The opposition Social Democratic Party has proposed six bills aimed at decreasing the indebtedness of Czech households. The series of bills looks to limit contractual fines, introduce an obligation to ask a debtor to pay before filing a lawsuit, and integrate orders for property seizures. The government says it is willing to discuss the legislation and is already considering some of the measures. The party says that Czech households owe more than a billion crowns and often end up in debt traps, one of the reasons for which they believe are the harsh conditions of debt collection.
Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek wants the country to contribute a sum of 1.5 billion euros (38 billion crowns) towards aiding the eurozone, the website Novinky.cz reports. He intends to make the proposal for a loan to the IMF to the government on Wednesday. The money would come from the foreign exchange reserves of the Czech National Bank, which would receive a guarantee from the government. In the proposal Mr Kalousek states that the Czech Republic has netted 175 billion crowns from the monetary fund since 2004, and he would consider it indecent and immoral to refuse to participate in the loan. EU leaders have agreed to bolster the euro with a 200 billion euro loan to the IMF; eurozone countries have only committed to 150 billion thus far.
Former diplomat and historian Miloš Pojar died unexpectedly on Monday, the website Lidovky.cz has reported. Mr Pojar was an editor for the publishing house of the Academy of Sciences and wrote a number of books on Judaism and Israel, but was banned from publishing his work during the Soviet occupation. After the fall of communism he served as the country’s first ambassador to Israel, a post currently held by his son, Tomáš. He was 71 years old.
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