A row between the Czech coalition government appears to be boiling over about the comments of Minister of Defence, Martin Stropnický, confirming that five Czech hostages held in Lebanon were exchanged for the return of Lebanese citizen Ali Fayad to his homeland. Christian Democrat leader and deputy prime minister Pavel Bělobrádek said that Stropnický should consider resigning or prime minister Bohuslav Sobotka or ANO leader Andrej Babiš should decide whether he be sacked. Bělobrádek said confirming such sensitive information broke the government line not to comment on the exchange which caused a strong protest from the US. Prime Minister Sobotka called a meeting of coalition party leaders Friday to discuss the row.
ANO leader and minister of finance Andrej Babiš has said future hotspots to process immigrants seeking refuge in the European Union should be sited outside Europe. Babiš made his comments before a meeting with the Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte in the Hague on Thursday. The Czech minister pinpointed Turkey as the prime location for a sort of European Ellis island, a reference to the historical US immigration site outside New York. The Czech minister said operating such sites should be the responsibility of the EU adding that Greece and Italy had clearly failed in their responsibility to police the common Schengen area frontier. If the hotspots fail then a wall, such as that between the US and Mexico, might be an option, Babiš added.
Education minister Kateřina Valachová has backed a demand by teaching unions for a hike in wages of 10 percent. Valachová said the increase was large but legitimate given the level of teachers’pay and the difficulty in finding qualified and motivated staff. The minister said she would begin talks with the minister of finance, Andrej Babiš, about inserting the raise in the budget for 2017 and 2018. The cost of a 10 percent rise would be around 13 billion crowns a year. Average teachers’wages are currently around 26,000 crowns a month, some of the lowest for university graduates across all professions in the country.
South Moravia will take in 24 Iraqi Christian refugees already in February, the charity Generation 21 announced on Thursday. The Czech government agreed last year to take 37 families totaling around 150 people. The South Moravian region announced Thursday that it will give 200,000 crowns to the charity which has taken charge of finding them housing, giving them language courses and preparing them for the jobs market.
Defense minister Martin Stropnický has said that a team of Czech instructors, ground crew and technicians could be sent to Iraq to help train local staff to use the L-159 jets which the Czech government has agreed to sell to Baghdad. Stropnický’s comemnts came during a NATO ministerial meeting in Brussels. The minister said he would like to put the proposal to the government. The contingent would represent further help in the fight against Islamic State. Czech Republic has agreed to sell 15 surplus to requirement subsonic L-159 aircraft to Iraq. The deal has been stalled by British concerns that some radar technology for the planes which it is supplying might fall into the wrong hands.
Czech utility ČEZ announced that two of its units at the Dukovany nuclear power plant closed for emergency checks on welds to pipes outside the core reactor areas will resume power production in the next days. ČEZ said Thursday that Dukovany-1 is powering up and should be supplying electricity to the grid from Friday. The unit was closed for checks on pipe welds after X-ray images produced by a sub-contract company were shown to be flawed. Dukovany-2 should power up Friday and produce electricity for the grid Saturday after an unplanned outage of 148 days for the similar repeat X-ray checks on welds to piping. For much of the last half year only one of the four units at the reactor has been operational due to the emergency checks.
One of the Czech Republic’s biggest banks, Komerční Banka, announced a surprise drop in profits for 2015. The bank announced a net profit of 13.1 billion crowns, 1.5 percent less than the final figure for 2014. Most analysts had expected the profit for last year to rise. Some observers highlighted the fact that the bank made increased provisions for bad loans at the end of the year.
The total worth of mortgage loans offered last year came to a record 184 billion crowns, according to figures released by the Ministry for Regional Development. The number of clients taking out loans jumped to around 102,000. The main factor in the booming market was the low average interest rates on mortgages of around 2.14 percent. The mortgage loans total in 2014 came to around 143 billion crowns
Minister of Defence Martin Stropnický has said that the Visegrad four regional grouping should consider sending a rotating contingent of troops to the Baltic States for training with local forces. The minister made the suggesting during an ongoing two-day ministerial meeting at NATO headquarters in Brussels. The idea would in part answer the Baltic States’ repeated demands for a stepped up military presence from its allies given the increased fears and tension with neighbour Russia.
Two German treasure hunters have claimed that the world famous amber chamber looted by Nazi forces from St. Petersburg during the Second World War is hidden in the cellars of a Czech castle. The claim has been made by Germans Erich Stenz and Georg Mederer that the treasure is hidden at Frýdlant castle in northern Bohemia. They say a now dead witness recounted how lorries brought the treasure there towards the end of the war. The treasure hunters complain their attempts to pursue research at the site has been blocked by the Czech National Heritage Institute and the Czech government. The amber room was a gift to Tsar Peter the Great by the then ruler of Prussia at the start of the 18th century.
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