The ongoing Czech methanol crisis has claimed its 24th victim when a 57-year-old woman died in the north-eastern town of Havířov on Friday night after two weeks in hospital. Doctors said the woman fell into a coma shortly after she was admitted to hospital on September 6. Another three patients with methanol intoxication remain in hospital in Havířov, one in critical condition.
Around 200 people gathered on Saturday in the east Bohemian town of Trutnov to protest against plans to explore shale gas deposits in the area, the news agency ČTK reported. Organizers said the rally was also held in support of local mayors who oppose mining companies which push for exploration of local deposit of shale gas. Some 30,000 people signed a petition against those plans, the organizers said.
The Czech and Swedish defence ministers have reached no deal on the
extension of the lease of Swedish Gripen fighters for the Czech Air Force.
After Friday’s talks with Swedish Minister of Defence, Karin Enström, in
Ostrava, her Czech counterpart, Alexandr Vondra told reporters should
Sweden not come up with a better offer, the Czech government would launch a
new tender to lease or buy jet fighters. The website novinky.cz reported
Sweden offered a 25 percent discount on the lease on condition it will be
signed for 10 years. However, Czech officials would only like to lease the
fighters for five years.
The Czech military leased 14 Gripen jets in 2004 for 20 billion crowns; the lease will expire in 2014. Mr Vondra said the negotiations with Sweden would continue until November.
Some 400 members of the country’s Romany community on Saturday attended the a Romany pilgrimage at the Holly Hill near Olomouc in Moravia, one of Czech Catholics’ most scared sites. The event, held for the fourth time, included a procession to the top of the hill where a Romany priest served a mass in the Basilica of Virgin Mary, as well as performances by various folklore groups.
Czech health workers have registered two new cases of methanol poisoning. An elderly woman was hospitalized in the early hours of Saturday with severe methanol intoxication in Kroměříž in east of the country; her condition is reported as stable. A man was also admitted to hospital in Čáslav, in central Bohemia but the levels of methanol in his blood were lower than toxic, Czech Radio reported. More than 30 people remain in hospitals in connection with the methanol crisis that has claimed 23 victims in the country so far.
Thousands of visitors came to see the annual NATO Days air show, which began in Ostrava on Saturday. The air forces of 19 countries are taking part in the show, including the US Air Force with two strategic bombers B-52, the British RAF with its Red Arrows acrobatic team as well as the Ramex Delta team of the French Air Force. Visitors will also see Czech Gripen fighters that will demonstrate in-flight refueling. The NATO Days continue in Ostrava until Sunday.
The European Commission on Friday welcomed the government-imposed ban on exports of spirits with higher than 20 percent volume of alcohol made in response to the methanol crisis. The Czech Health Ministry issued the immediate ban on Thursday night under pressure from the commission which threatened to impose their own ban that could last for up to two months, arguing consumers in other EU countries have the right to the same level of protection against methanol-laced spirits as those in the Czech Republic. Future lifting of the ban will however have to be consulted with the European Commission, a spokesman for the European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy said.
Prime Minister Petr Nečas on Friday said he would not meet with trade union boss Jaroslav Zavadil until he apologizes for his comment in which he said Mr Nečas’ government was the worst the country had since 1950. Mr Nečas said the comment was outrageous as it compated his cabinet to communists governments which killed its political opponents. Mr Zavadil later said he would have chosen different words.
Czech spirits producers have come up with their own suggestions on how to end the state-imposed prohibition of hard liquor. At a news conference on Friday, members of the Union of Spirits Producers and Importers said the authorities should ban sales of spirits by firms in whose products dangerous levels of methanol were found while lifting the ban for products with certified origin. Products whose origin cannot be identified should also be pulled off the market. The producers also suggest that a coordination body should be established to oversee the regulation of the market.
In related news, the police discovered some 6,000 litres of suspicious liquid in a warehouse complex in the north-eastern city of Opava on Thursday. The authorities are now waiting for the results of tests to confirm whether the liquid was used in the production of bootleg liquor. The warehouse is used by a firm from Ostrava which deals, among other things, in windshield washer fluids that contains anti-freeze. No connection between the firm and the production of bootleg liquor has been established so far, the police said. Twenty-three people have been arrested to date in connection with the methanol crisis.
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