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PM says EU statement showing closure of Balkans route a vindication of Visegrad 4 stance

Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka hailed as positive the wording of an EU communique indicating the EU would declare the Balkan route “now closed” for migrants, suggesting the move vindicated the Visegrad 4 which had pushed strongly for the step as a so-called plan B. Germany has been against. The EU is pressing Turkey to take back migrants; the Czech Republic, meanwhile, is also in favour of increased measures against human smuggling in the Aegean. On Monday, Mr Sobotka indicated that greater cooperation on the part of Turkey was needed also within NATO; he expressed the hope that Turkey’s prime minister would send a positive signal and that NATO naval operations would go smoothly.

Finance minister and president to meet, could discuss 2017 elections

President Miloš Zeman and the country’s finance minister, Andrej Babiš, are to meet next week, the president’s spokesman Jiří Ovčáček confirmed, not ruling out the two would discuss the possibility of moving up the next general election by four or five months. In an interview for the daily Právo at the weekend, Mr Babis questioned whether it made sense for the current coalition to continue longer and stated that the Czech Republic traditionally held elections at the end of May and beginning of June. The next election is meant to be in the autumn of next year. The advantage of an earlier election, Mr Babiš said, was that it would leave the new government sufficient time to prepare the next annual state budget which would not be the case if the election is held in the autumn. Tension in the coalition of Mr Babiš’ party ANO and the Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats grew after it appeared partners might back a bill on conflict of interest seen as a move against the minister, who is the owner of the huge Agrofert group. The opposition proposal, however, did not pass in the lower house.

Czech Medical Chamber calls on government to come up with emergency action plan

The Czech Medical Chamber, headed by Milan Kubek, has called on the government to prepare an emergency plan for the Czech health care sector. The chamber has insisted the plan include the valorisation of insurance payments, a health tax on alcohol and tobacco products, steady wage increases, and a streamlining of pay scales in private and state hospitals. According to Mr Kubek, the role of the sector is to provide quality health care for all, which he suggested was something which is now impossible to guarantee, despite the hard work of thousands of doctors and nurses. According to a survey conducted by the chamber, regional hospitals lack 826 doctors; the lack of personnel, the chamber maintains, is tied to the lack of funds.

Czech police to take part in training exercise at crossings on Czech-Austrian border

Czech police officers will take part in a training exercise on Tuesday increasing security at border crossings with Austria, police presidium spokesman Jozef Bocán confirmed. The exercise is to help prepare and streamline cooperation in the event of a marked increase in the influx of refugees during the ongoing migration crisis. A similar operation was conducted last September. Police from the regions of South Bohemia and South Moravia are taking part; last September, training exercises included participation of the armed forces. Interior Minister Milan Chovanec said the operation showed that the country was well prepared for a marked increase in refugees, with a five-hour window to take steps considered ideal.

Spending watchdog critical of progress on rail corridors

The Czech spending watchdog, the National Audit Office, has released a critical report on the progress of renovation and improvements of some of the country’s key rail corridors. The report points out that a series of projects approved in 2001 and 2002 were originally supposed to be completed by 2010 but now look they will not finished until 2021. It added that the costs of one kilometre of new track was sometime three times the expense of the cheapest and that standard cost evaluations were only introduced at the start of 2015. In the remains of that year that move already saved 23.2 billion crowns.

Self-styled president of disputed patch of land holds press event in capital

Vít Jedlička, the self-styled 'president' of Liberland (a micro-nation proclaimed by Mr Jedlička less than a year ago on a seven square kilometre patch of land disputed by Croatia and Serbia) says some 87,000 applications for citizenship were received so far. He spoke at a press conference in Prague on Monday, suggesting that around 1,000 of the most ‘active’ applicants would be the first to receive said ‘citizenship’. Applications have reportedly come in from all around the world. Croatian authorities last year twice briefly detained Mr Jedlička and have reportedly blocked access to the land. Legal experts in both Serbia and Croatia have said under international law no third party has the right to claim the area, which is uninhabited, mostly forestland, off the Danube.

President insists Hitler gentleman article real

Days after a Prague court ruled that President Miloš Zeman should apologise for comments suggesting that the renowned Czech journalist Ferdinand Peroutka wrote an article in which he described Adolf Hitler as a gentleman, the head of state insisted the article exists. Speaking on a TV debate programme on TV Prima on Sunday, Mr Zeman said he remembered being shocked by the headline; he added that former culture minister Pavel Dostál, who died in 2005, referred to the article in 2002. A thorough search of archives by the president’s staff over the course of a year, however, failed to uncover the article or find evidence of its existence. The president’s office said it will appeal the court ruling and made clear it was ready to take the matter all the way to the Constitutional Court. The call for an apology was brought by Mr Peroutka’s descendants.

Police arrest gang of seven

Police in Prague have apprehended seven suspects, five of whom are under the age of 18, believed to be responsible for four muggings largely around shopping centres in the area of Smíchov, spokeswoman Iveta Martińková confirmed online. The group reportedly targeted individuals they deemed vulnerable; in one of the muggings in January which took place after 3 AM near Prague’s Klamovka, members of the group allegedly followed and then attacked one woman, punching her in the face and pummeling her to the ground before making off with her purse; if found guilty, the seven could spend up to 10 years behind bars.

Josef Čapek painting sets record for Czech auction

A landscape oil painting by Czech artist Josef Čapek has set a new Czech auction record for a painting. The work fetched an auction price of 14.1 million crowns. The starting price was set at 9 million crowns. The painting, called ‘In June’, was one of Čapek’s works from the 1930s.