A court case against 18 right-wing extremists opened in Brno on Monday. Some of the accused are members of neo-Nazi bands such as Devils Guard, Imperium or Attack. The others assisted in organizing at least 14 concerts in the years 2008 and 2009 at which they distributed the band’s CDs, leaflets, badges and neo-Nazi memorabilia. If convicted of spreading Nazi ideology members of the group would each face up to eight years in prison. It is one of the biggest court cases against neo-Nazis in the country’s modern history.
There has been an improvement in the quality of air in parts of Moravia and Silesia after the regions’ biggest polluters were ordered to scale-down production. The regulatory measures introduced on Sunday have also placed restrictions on car traffic. The concentration of dust particles in the air still exceeds permitted levels, but is significantly lower that at the weekend when pollution in the worst affected areas was four times higher than norms permit. The authorities have now lifted the restrictions on producers but a smog alert remains in place.
President-elect Milos Zeman said on Monday that he would do his best to consolidate the Czech constitutional court by filling its vacancies with all possible speed. He said he intended to propose four candidates for constitutional court judges shortly after his inauguration in March and another four in June. The term of seven judges of the 15-member court will expire this year. The court lacks three judges even now and further vacancies would present a serious problem. Moreover the mandate of the court’s chairman Pavel Rychetsky is due to expire in the summer. Mr. Zeman said he would propose his reappointment to the post. Candidates for constitutional judges are nominated by the president and confirmed or rejected by the Senate.
The Social Democrats have filed a constitutional complaint against the law on church restitutions. The complaint is based on the argument that the scope of the restitution, which amounts to 135 billion crowns, is inflated and churches are allegedly set to receive more than was confiscated by the communist regime after 1948. Senator Jeroným Tejc, who filed the complaint in his name on Monday, noted that 7 of the 17 churches and religious groupings who are benefactors under the restitution law did not even exist before the fall of communism in 1989. The law’s critics also warn that the legislation could open the door to claims for property seized by the state before the communists took power in 1948. The restitution law, approved by Parliament late last year, envisages a transfer of land and property to the tune of 75 billion crowns and compensation money for the rest to the tune of 59 billion crowns to be paid by the state over a period of 30 years.
Former MP Petr Wolf who was sentenced to 6 years in jail for financial fraud is still on the run after failing to report to prison late last year but he is reportedly paying the penalty set by the court. He was last seen in the vicinity of his home around Christmas and the police believe he must have fled the Czech Republic. An Interpol warrant has been issued for his arrest.
The Bulgarian authorities are looking into the electricity prices charged by Czech and Austrian power distributors following an avalanche of complaints from the public. Energy Minister Delyan Dobrev said that once it had the results of an audit the government would make a final decision on whether there are grounds for revoking their licenses. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets across the country on Sunday to protest against what they call excessive electricity prices set by the Czech power distributor ČEZ and the Austrian energy company EVN. There have even been demands for the country’s distribution network to be nationalized. ČEZ claims that the higher electricity bills in January reflect higher consumption over the Christmas holidays and a colder-than-usual winter. ČEZ recently had its license revoked to operate Albania’s national grid after drawn-out disputes over tariffs and unpaid bills.
Prime Minister Petr Nečas on Monday decorated 18 freedom fighters against communism, members of the so-called “third resistance”. Among them are Josef Čech, who spent 15 years in jail for secretly helping political prisoners in the Jáchymov uranium mine in the hardline 1950s, Charter 77 signatory and human rights activist Dana Němcová and protest singer and songwriter Jaroslav Hutka. Several people were awarded posthumously. A law on the so-called Third Resistance came into force in late 2011 opening the way for proper recognition of those who actively fought the communist regime. Those who are recognized as having been part of the active opposition are entitled to one-off payments and top-ups to their pensions.
MP Roman Pekarek has started serving a five-year sentence for corruption. The lower house deputy reported to the Hradec Kralove jailhouse amidst huge media interest on Monday morning. Mr. Pekarek made it clear he considers the verdict unfair and is refusing to give up his mandate until he has exhausted all legal means of fighting his sentence. He says he plans to petition the Supreme Court to review his case. Pekarek was found guilty of accepting a one million crown bribe for selling municipal land to a businessman under price. He is the first deputy to be sentenced to prison during his term in office. The case has led MPs to initiate a bill under which convicted deputies would lose their salary and possibly even be stripped of their mandate in future.
The Prague Steamboat Company is considering filing a criminal complaint in connection with Sunday’s accident on the Vltava River. One of the company’s steamboats, which is currently used for advertising purposes, came loose from its mooring and was borne downstream crashing into one of the pillars of Prague’s Palacký bridge. The company says this could not have been an accident since the boat was anchored and moored by seven steel ropes. Company head Dušan Sahula says the runaway boat’s trajectory suggests someone pushed it away from the embankment.
Police are investigating Sunday’s gas explosion in Frenštát pod Radhoštěm as a threat to public safety. The number of victims has risen to five, three of them children between the age of 3 and 8. Eleven people were injured in the explosion that completely demolished a block of flats. Two of the injured remain in critical condition. Emergency crews are still sifting through the debris in search of the last missing person. According to media reports the accident may have been caused by a man who used gas in cylinders to heat his home after having his heating cut off over unpaid bills. The man did not get on with his neighbours and had repeatedly threatened to kill everyone.
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