Masses are being celebrated around the Czech Republic on Good Friday which is once again observed as a public holiday. The holiday was observed in the years of the First Republic but was scrapped by the communist regime in 1951. It was reintroduced as a public holiday late last year by the country’s Parliament. The Archbishop of Prague, Cardinal Dominik Duka will serve a mass at St. Vitus Cathedral at 6pm on Friday.
Police in Prague on Friday briefly detained a man who cut off two of the Chinese flags which are being put up in Prague in a lavish show of welcome for Chinese President Xi Jinping who is due to arrive in Prague for a two day visit on Monday. Tight security measures will be in place in several parts of the city, including Prague Castle, the Office of the Government and the president’s country seat at Lány which President Xi Jinping will be visiting. The preparations have raised protests from Prague’s sixth district whose mayor compared flags and billboards with greetings in Czech and Chinese to state visits by communist officials before the fall of the Iron Curtain.
Police in Moravia detained a Polish van carrying a large number of refugees in the early hours of Friday, the news site Novinky.cz reported. According to a police spokeswoman there were 17 people crammed in the van including several children and a baby. Most of them are believed to be from Iraq. The police are questioning them via an interpreter to ascertain their country of origin and identity. The driver has also been detained and will be charged with people smuggling.
The ANO party of Finance Minister Andrej Babiš has once again forged ahead of its rivals in popularity polls. According to a March poll conducted by the CVVM agency ANO would currently win general elections, getting 29 percent of the vote, up by two percentage points from February. The Social Democrats would get 22.5 percent, down by two points compared to the previous poll and the Communist Party would come third with 13 percent, down by one percentage point. The opposition Civic Democrats would get 10 percent support, the Christian Democrats would get 6 percent and the only other party to cross the 5 percent threshold needed to get seats in the lower house would be TOP 09 with 5.5 percent.
The Danish-Icelandic-Croatian drama Sparrows directed by Runar Runarsson won the Grand Prix award at the Prague international film, TV and video festival Febiofest 2016. The films is about a teenage boy who has been living with his mother in Reykjavik and is suddenly sent back to the remote Westfjords to live with his father Gunnar. The drama follows his struggle to navigate a difficult relationship with his father and build a new life in hostile surroundings. Sparrows has already collected a number of awards at international film festivals including the Silver Hugo at the Chicago International Film Festival 2015, Best Film at the San Sebastian International Film Festival 2015 and Best Film and Best Screenplay at the Sao Paulo International Film Festival 2015.
On a working visit to Paris, Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said that the Storks’ Nest scandal surrounding Finance Minister Andrej Babiš must not destabilize the ruling coalition or paralyze the government. He said that it was essential for the government to continue fulfilling its policy program. The prime minister has rejected calls for him to dismiss the finance minister, saying he will not make a decision before the outcome of an investigation by the European Anti-Fraud Office.
Finance Minister and ANO leader Andrej Babiš has rejected criticism from his coalition partner Christian Democrat leader Pavel Bělobrádek who on Thursday suggested M. Babiš should consider resigning amid suspicions of subsidy fraud for his Stork’s Nest farm. Mr. Babis said that if anyone was destabilizing the ruling coalition it was Pavel Bělobrádek and, in what is widely viewed as a tit-for-tat move, said that he would support the Communist Party’s proposal to level a heavy tax on church restitutions. This is a particularly sensitive issue for the Christian Democrats who earlier made it clear that they would regard this as a violation of the coalition agreement.
Deputy Prime Minister Pavel Bělobradek, who heads the Christian Democrats in the ruling coalition, has said Finance Minister and ANO leader Andrej Babiš should consider resigning from office. Speaking in Orlando at the close of a five-day visit to the US, Mr. Bělobradek said the finance minister’s address to the lower house on Wednesday had only confirmed the suspicion that he had transferred the ownership of his Stork Nest farm to family members with the aim of gaining EU subsidies for small entrepreneurs. "I consider it a very serious situation because it lowers the credit of both Mr. Babiš and the whole government," the Christian Democrat leader said. He noted that while the suspicion was being investigated by the European Anti-Fraud Office OLAF and the police, it was also an ethical problem that Mr. Babiš, ANO and not least voters should address. The prime minister has said he will await the outcome of the EU investigation before making a decision on Mr. Babiš’ possible dismissal.
Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka visits Paris Thursday for talks with his French counterpart Manuel Valls and President Francoise Hollande. Sobotka has said he is keen to learn the lessons that France has learnt regarding security following last November’s terrorist attacks. Discussions will also focus on bilateral trade and investment, possible Czech cooperation in the space industry, research and development and energy. Sobotka later said that both sides agreed there could not be a long term allocation of immigrants between EU states. The Czech prime minister last visited Valls in April 2014.
No fly zones, also affecting drones, over parts of Prague including Prague castle and the government offices and the president’s country seat at Lány will apply during the visit by Chinese President, Xi Jinping. The first ever visit by the head of the Chinese Peoples’ Republic takes place from March 28 to March 30. Security zones will also be created at areas where activities linked to the visit are scheduled. Due to the level one security alert now prevailing in the Czech Republic, these areas will be patrolled by mixed contingents of police and army. Residents and visitors entering these zone will also be liable for security checks.
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