An open letter signed by notable Czech writers such as Ivan Klíma and Jáchym Topol, as well as journalist Bohumil Doležal and the head of the Jewish Museum in Prague Leo Pavlát, has criticised President Miloš Zeman for part of his inauguration speech last week that targeted a section of the Czech media. In his speech, the president said he would take aim at sections of the media that manipulated public opinion. Signatories of the open letter called his singling out of the media an unprecedented attack on freedom of speech and have asked for a full explanation. Copies of the letter have been sent to the prime minister, the speaker of the lower house, the heads of the senate and the head of the country’s largest opposition party.
President Miloš Zeman and First Lady Ivana received Great Britain’s Prince Edward and his wife, Sophie, the Countess of Wessex, at Prague Castle on Tuesday. Prince Edward and his wife are the first foreign dignitaries President Zeman has received since assuming office. The royal couple are in Prague for a three-day private visit at the invitation of the British Embassy in Prague. Next week Prince Edward will award 35 Czech students the Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award at Černín Palace, home to the Czech Foreign Ministry.
Czech men’s number one Tomáš Berdych has advanced to the fourth round at tennis’s BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells. Berdych, who is ranked sixth in the world, reached the last 16 after a 6–4 6–1 win over Florian Mayer of Germany. The 27-year-old lost serve in the very first game, but immediately broke Mayer’s serve and went on to dominate the match. His next opponent will be Richard Gasquet of France.
Prague’s High Court has confirmed an earlier decision by the regional court in Plzeň to reject the release of prisoner Jaroslav Šrubař under the New Year’s amnesty. In 2006, Mr Šrubař, then a fugitive, was sentenced to nine years in prison for tax evasion in the hundreds of millions of crowns as well as for kidnapping and blackmail. The case has lasted more than eight years, according to the Czech news agency. In 2011 Šrubař gave himself up, asking for a new trial. In January of this year, when former president Václav Klaus declared the amnesty (affecting minor crimes and cases lasting eight years or more) Šrubař’s case remained unresolved. Tuesday’s ruling confirms in practice that cases lasting eight years or more due to a suspect avoiding justice will not be covered by the amnesty.
Cardinals meeting in Rome have begun proceedings to elect the next Pope. Voting by cardinal-electors, all under the age of 80, including Czech Cardinal Dominik Duka, 69, will take place behind locked doors in the Sistine Chapel and is expected to take several days. The cardinals are looking for a candidate to succeed Pope Benedict XVI who announced unexpectedly in February that he was stepping down – the first pope in more than six centuries to resign. The successful resolution of the vote in Rome, indicating a new pope has been chosen, will be signalled by white smoke.
Prague City councillors on Tuesday are to discuss a plan that should lead to the easing of traffic along the Smetana embankment in the Czech capital. Under the proposal being tabled, the embankment would be closed to motor vehicles every Saturday beginning in mid-May and lasting until the end of June. The local tram route would not be affected. The Smetana embankment runs along the Vltava River close to the city’s historic centre, between the Charles Bridge and Legion Bridge; it features a bike path that continues on to Podolí and further out of the city.
Hackers on Tuesday targeted the website of the Czech Republic’s UniCredit Bank, Živě.cz writes; the cyber attack is allegedly not related to similar incidents that hit Czech websites in recent days, targeting other sites such as financial institutions, media, search engines and telecommunications providers. The attack against UniCredit was apparently facilitated by an administrator’s weak password of ‘Banka123’. The hacked site “apologised” to clients for “losing all their funds”. The spokesman for the bank confirmed that the claim was false: no other areas – such as e-banking – were affected. The site is now running normally.
Czech police on Tuesday uncovered an unspecified amount of penthrite, a powerful and potentially deadly explosive, in a prefab apartment in Velké Hamry, North Bohemia; the news was revealed by Security Forces General Inspection spokeswoman Radka Sandorová. According to sources, officers rushed into the house to arrest a local resident, a policeman himself. Fire fighters, meanwhile, evacuated 30 people from the seven-story building and closed off surrounding areas. Those evacuated from the site were given refuge at the local town hall. Penthrite (Pentaerythritol tetranitrate) has a white crystalline appearance and is used to make fuses, detonators, and small bombs.
The Czech economy contracted by 1.2 percent last year, according to a revised official estimate released on Monday. Gross domestic product declined by 1.7 percent year-on-year in the final quarter of last year, and analysts believe there was a further contraction in the first quarter of this year. The country is currently going through the longest recession on record and the forecast for the whole of 2013 is for continued decline or at best stagnation.
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