Leader of the ANO party Andrej Babiš has described the quitting of five high placed members of the party on Karlovy Vary city council as a clear out of those who gained office for personal profit. The local party has challenged them to stand down and resign their seats. They have said they will continue as council members and continue in the coalition governing the Czech Republic’s biggest spa city. Some of those who quit complained about the inner working of the party and its embargo on giving out information of its functioning. The latest resignations form part of a series of conflicts in town and city councils where ANO members were elected over the last year.
Attempts to free a Czech cargo barge floundering under a Dresden bridge have hit technical problems. The barge has been stuck under the bridge since late Monday, blocking other traffic. Attempts were started to try and suck most of the cargo of 800 tonnes of salt from the barge so that it could be moved. The attempts have failed due to the moist conditions which meant the salt clogged in the tubes. Other solutions to shift the cargo are now being sought. The hope had been to get the barge free by Friday.
Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka has called for the EU summit to seek the release of Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko. Sobotka told members of the upper house, the Senate, that the two-day summit starting Thursday should in its conclusions demand the imprisoned pilot’s release. She is on trial by Russian authorities for allegedly directing artillery fire in the conflict in Ukraine which led to the deaths of two Russian journalists and could face a jail sentence of 23 years. The Senate passed a motion Wednesday calling for her release, saying that her detention was in conflict with the Minsk accords establishing a ceasefire in the conflict.
Minister of Finance and ANO leader Andrej Babiš has said he will reveal the ownership of his Stork’s Nest farm and conference centre before a lower house debate about it. The ownership is at the centre of a scandal over whether the finance minister received European grants for the project totaling just over 50 million crowns which it should not have qualified for. Mr. Babiš made the comments before meeting President Miloš Zeman about the issue. The farm project outside Prague was at one stage in 2007 and 2008 owned by the minister’s massive Agrofert agro-chemical group but ownership was later changed. Agrofert would not have been entitled to the European funds targeted at small and medium sized firms. A special session of the lower house is expected on March 23 to discuss the issue.
Czech electricity producer ČEZ has said that it will not make a binding bid for the German coal mine and power plant assets of the Swedish-based power company Vattenfall. CEZ said that low wholesale electricity prices and uncertainty over whether brown coal power plants might have to be closed early deterred it from making a bid. The state controlled company added though that it was still prepared to talk about other options for the German assets. Separately, Czech Coal said it had made a bid for the assets. Later, Czech energy group EPH said it made a joint bid along with the PPF Investments company.
The Czech upper house, the Senate, has approved on of finance minister Andrej Babiš’ flagship measures aimed at combatting tax avoidance, so-called electronic cash registers. Attempts to amend the proposal or stall debate from members of right-wing parties failed. The controversial move now just needs to be approved by head of state, Miloš Zeman. The minister reckons the measure will curb tax avoidance to the tune of 18 billion crowns a year. Opponents say it adds another burden to small business and will not deliver on the promise of extra tax revenues.
The Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka has declared his surprise at the reports that the Catholic Church is seeking the return of former church property held by regions and local councils. In the past, the church said it would not seek the restitution of such property if a 1991 law on the return of property was not broken. It appears now though that the church is suggesting that the law was broken in some cases. One of those cases appears to be a school in Mikulov which has been run since 2000 by the South Moravian region. The prime minister says the issue should be discussed in the Cabinet.
So-called stress tests have been carried out on Prague’s Libeň bridge in an attempt to determine its state of repair. Six 40-tonne lorries crossed the bridge across the Vltava river overnight on Tuesday to determine how it performed. The bridge, opened in 1928 and the only Cubist style bridge in the world, is believed to be in a series state of disrepair. Heavy traffic is now limited on it and certain types of trams are banned from crossing on it. Prague City Hall earlier this year resisted calls for the bridge to be demolished.
The Czech Cabinet gave prime minister Bohuslav Sobotka a mandate to press Greece to move faster in returning immigrants to Turkey. The mandate applies to the European Summit taking place Thursday and Friday dealing with unfinished business with Turkey over the immigration crisis and possible solutions. Under a proposed new framework, for every illegal Syrian immigrant returned to Turkey, Ankara would have the right to send a Syrian with a valid asylum claim to the EU. Turkey is asking for 3 billion euros more as part of the new package that it was granted back in November.
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