Justice Minister Jiří Pospíšil of the Civic Democratic Party has been sacked. Prime Minister Petr Nečas told a press conference on Wednesday that the unexpected decision was the result of his having lost confidence in Pospíšil’s ability to manage the ministry and its finances. The prime minister harshly criticised the justice minister for having requested a budget increase of a billion crowns, which he said had a demoralising effect on the other cabinet members at a time when every ministry had to suffer cuts. Pospíšil has on numerous occasions warned that without a budget increase the prison system would not be able to properly care for prisoners. Mr Pospíšil himself said he respected the decision but was surprised by it, having only learned of his dismissal an hour before it was publically announced.
A court has ordered two former cashiers to pay more than one million crowns each to the Czech postal service for their negligence in a 1997 robbery. In the biggest robbery of its kind in the Czech Republic, three armed and masked perpetrators stole 28 million crowns from a post office. The two women were accused of facilitating the crime by failing to follow security procedures, leaving a window open and the safe unlocked. Three young men were charged with the crime but released for lack of evidence.
Prime Minister Nečas has asked Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek to tone down his rhetoric regarding the charges against former defence minister Vlasta Parkanová. Kalousek has fiercely defended his fellow party member against police accusations that she improperly handled the purchase of four Spanish CASA transport planes for the army via an intermediary. Kalousek in turn has been strongly criticised for comments made at the weekend that the charges against her amounted to a police attack on democracy and the decision-making mechanisms of the state. Mr Nečas said he sees no threat of a police state, as minister Kalousek suggested, and said it was necessary to be more moderate in handling the issue.
The heads of the coalition TOP 09 party will call on Prime Minister Nečas and the next justice minister to appoint Lenka Bradáčová to lead the Prague State Prosecutor’s office, according to deputy chairman Miroslav Kalousek. A great deal of speculation on Wednesday focused on Bradáčová, a respected prosecutor, as the real reason behind the sacking of Justice Minister Pospíšil. Pospíšil intended to appoint her to the key position to replace Vlastimil Rampula, who many have accused of political bias. Kalousek said Wednesday that the prime minister should appoint Bradáčová if indeed she was not the reason for his dismissal.
In related news, former defence minister Parkanová told journalists after her hearing in the parliamentary Mandate and Immunity Committee that she did not make any mistakes in the purchase of the CASA planes for the military. Parkanová said she submitted a number of legal analyses to the committee, all of which said she had no duty to have an expert price assessment made before the 3.5 billion crown purchase. The committee, which is examining a police request to strip Parkanová of her immunity, suspended its negotiations on Wednesday until July 10, when it is to make a recommendation on the issue to the lower house.
President Václav Klaus has announced that regional and Senate elections will be held on Friday October 12 and Saturday 13. Parties will have until August 7 to submit their lists of candidates. The Social Democratic Party, which has governed all of the country’s 14 regions except Prague since 2008, will be fighting to retain control of them and also the Senate, where the party has a majority. Only six of the socialist party’s 27 seats are up for grabs, however. The Civic Democratic Party will be looking to maintain 14 of 25 mandates. The Czech Senate comprises 81 seats, with senators serving six-year terms of office.
Coalition and opposition parties reacted with surprise to the sudden dismissal of Justice Minister Pospíšil, who is often rated one of the most popular politicians in the country. Leading members of the coalition TOP 09 party said they had been taken aback by the decision, with some praising his successful work in the Justice Ministry, but concurring that the dismissal of a minister is wholly the decision of the prime minister. The opposition Social Democrats demanded to know the ‘real’ reasons for the minister’s dismissal, with some speculating that it was based on Mr Pospíšil’s own sacking of the Prague State Prosecutor and the present need to fill that position. TOP 09 leader Karel Schwarzenberg called the sacking unjust and said that Pospíšil had apparently been eliminated because he was a danger to someone.
President Václav Klaus has signed the treaty for Croatia’s accession to the EU, ending the ratification process in the Czech Republic. The former Yugoslavian country should become the 28th member of the union on July 1 of next year. The president originally wanted to tie the approval of the treaty to a vote on a Czech exemption from part of the Lisbon treaty, however that demand would have denied Croatia entry as the Social Democratic Party, which has a majority in the Senate, rejects the exemption.
Education Minister Petr Fiala has extended the accreditation of West Bohemian University’s College of Law. The continuation of the troubled institution has been up in the air since the beginning of the year, when the respective committee denied it accreditation due to insufficient personnel and poor results. Former education minister Josef Dobeš drew severe criticism and even a law suit for attempting to prolong its accreditation until 2016. Fiala on Wednesday cancelled that decision and extended only the graduate programme for one year, allowing students to finish their studies.
Protests are already being planned in support of Jiří Pospíšil. Students of the Law College of Charles University are organising a demonstration on Wednesday evening at Prague’s Palacké náměstí to “express support for minister Pospíšil and thank him for his work”. Green Party chairman Ondřej Liška meanwhile is calling for a demonstration on Wenceslas Square at 7 p.m. on Thursday. A number of Facebook pages have also been opened in defence of Mr Pospíšil. Most complaints about the dismissal include disbelief of the prime minister’s rationale for it – for example, 94% of 1,100 people in one online poll said the reason for his sacking was his unwillingness to sweep sensitive cases under the rug. Prime Minister Nečas on Wednesday afternoon denied accusations that the dismissal had anything to do with the appointment of a state prosecutor in Prague, which he said he knew nothing about.
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