Some six dozen political groups have registered for this autumn’s regional elections. The previous regional elections in 2008 saw 60 groupings, four of which did not run because they failed to meet all election requirements. The elections will show whether the opposition Social Democratic Party will be able to maintain its dominance of all 13 of the Czech Republic’s regions. Apart from the major political parties, extra-parliamentary groups like the Party of Citizens´ Rights of Milos Zeman, Sovereignty of Jana Bobošiková, the Greens, the Pirates and the far-right Workers´ Party of Social Justice will seek the support from voters.
The Senate economics committee has recommended that the upper house reject the government’s proposal for church restitution. The bill will be voted on next week in the Senate, which is controlled by the opposition. Should it be rejected, the proposal will head back to the Chamber of Deputies, where the government will require 101 votes to overturn the Senate vote. Under the draft legislation, the Czech state would return some 56 percent of the physical property worth around 75 billion crowns; for the rest, Czech churches and religious societies would receive some 60 billion crowns in compensation over a period of 30 years.
MP Jiří Šlégr of the LEV 21 party has offered to guarantee fellow member David Rath in the event of his being released from prison. Mr Šlégr said he wanted to allow the former governor of Central Bohemia to be in contact with his children and did not believe that Dr Rath would leave the country or continue in the crimes for which he is being prosecuted. David Rath has been in prison since mid-May, when he was caught receiving a suspected bribe of seven million crowns which police believe involved rigging tenders for EU-funded projects. Media reports have suggested he may be eligible for bail in mid-August, though the police have declined to comment.
The authorities report a sharp rise in drug tourism on the Czech-German border. According to Bavarian police an increasing number of Germans have been travelling to the Czech border areas to buy drugs from Vietnamese dealers, mainly the methamphetamine-based drug pervitin and marihuana. While in 2010 Bavarian police detained 183 people with drugs they had bought in the Czech border areas last year their number rose to 553. The police say that while initially people bought small amounts for their own use they now suspect that a distribution network is being created with an ever greater amount of drugs being smuggled to Germany.
Unemployment in the Czech Republic grew to 8.3% in July from 8.1% in June. The number of job seekers rose by just over 11,000 to nearly half a million. According to fresh statistics from the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, the lowest rate of unemployment was in Prague at 3.3% followed by Mlada Boleslav and Plzen; the highest was in the region of Bruntal in Northern Moravia, where there were 42 job seekers per open position last month. Unemployment benefits were granted to 18.9% of the unemployed.
Deputy Defence Minister Jiří Šedivý also told the Czech Press Agency on Wednesday that the Czech military would be lowering the number of officers at its headquarters, including the General Staff, in order to slim down the command structure. The first rule of the restructuring, he said, was that it not affect combat units. Civilian employees will also be dismissed within the scope of restructuring the Defence Ministry. Šedivý also said that while the number of troops will be lower, media reports of up to several thousand were exaggerated.
A mine exploded in a field near Břeclav in South Moravia on Wednesday when it was run over by a tractor. Police said the 47-year-old driver was mulching his field when the glass and wheels were shattered by the explosion. He walked away from the blast unharmed, though the machine itself was badly damaged. The mine is believed to have been laying in the ground since the Second World War.
Anti-corruption police raided the offices of the state CzechInvest agency in Prague on Wednesday. The reason for the raid is not yet known; police and CzechInvest officials were unable to comment as the investigation is ongoing. According to the Czech Press Agency, the company’s electronic systems were taken offline and employees were sent home. A press release made by the Social Democratic Party in July accused the company’s director of trying to quietly privatise one of its main functions, which is to manage European grants and draw investors into the country. CzechInvest denied the allegation.
The percentage of Roma children in schools for the mentally impaired has declined in the last two years, according to the Czech School Inspectorate. The institute’s inspection revealed that Roma children make up 26.4% of pupils in such programmes, compared to 35% two years ago. The Czech Republic has faced international criticism for years for the rate at which Roma are improperly diagnosed with serious learning disabilities and send to practical, formerly called special, schools. Since last year parents have had to agree with the placement of their children in such schools. The government and the ombudsman are planning to announce further steps to combat the problem in September.
The outgoing ambassador to NATO and his successor have strongly warned against continued decreasing of military expenditures in the Czech Republic and other NATO countries. In an interview for the Czech Press Agency Martin Povejšil said he considers the situation very serious and that the allies would be faced with a real danger if member states continue to decrease their spending. Jiří Šedivý, who will assume the post in September, said the Czech Republic will have to offer other quality ways of participating in NATO activities if spending on defence continues to decrease and the presence in Afghanistan is reduced. NATO recommends its member states to spend about 2 percent of their GDP on defence. Military spending in the Czech Republic last year, for instance, amounted to only 1.15 percent of GDP.
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