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14-01-2019

Babiš launches South Asia tour with Singapore visit

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš met with Singapore’s President Halimah Yacob and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Monday at the start of a two-day official visit to the Asian state. Mr. Babiš said he saw Singapore as the centre of economic activity in Southeast Asia.

The Czech PM hopes to primarily discuss trade cooperation in the wider region as well as partnerships in science, research, education and defence. Accompanying the prime minister is a delegation including representatives of 42 Czech companies.

The visit is part of a larger tour that will see the Czech PM also travel to Thailand and India this week. Babiš says that Asia and Africa offer the Czech Republic the opportunity to diversify its exports beyond the European Union.

Czech pensioner jailed over terror attacks aimed at defaming migrants

Czech pensioner Jaromír Balda has been found guilty of terrorism after causing two train crashes with the aim of spreading fear of Muslim migrants. Mr. Balda, who is 71, has been sentenced to four years in jail and out-patient psychiatric treatment.

In 2017 he cut down trees on two railway lines in in the Mladá Boleslav area. In both cases the trains crashed but there were no injuries. He left leaflets at the scene purporting to be from Muslim terrorists.

The pensioner told the court that he had only wished to stir up resistance, so “that horror” did not reach the Czech Republic.

Proposed bill seeks to remove slander from criminal law books

A new amendment proposed by the Social Democrats seeks to remove slander from the list of criminal acts. The bill, which has also received the approval of government, will be discussed in Parliament later this month.

The Social Democrats have defended the move as a way to relieve the police of unnecessary investigations, further state that citizens’ honour and reputation are protected by the new Civil Code. Some opposition politicians say the move is unsystematic.

Slander investigations relating to politicians have received wide coverage in the media in the past.

President still refuses to name university professors

President Miloš Zeman has reaffirmed his decision not to appoint Ivan Ošťádal and Jiří Fajta as professors at Prague’s Charles University, a representative of the university said on Monday. This is the latest move in a three-year dispute between the president and the university, which took Mr. Zeman’s original decision to court.

While the judge ruled that no executive organ has the power to re-evaluate the university’s selection procedure, the Municipal Court returned the matter to the president for a new decision. However, Mr. Zeman has not done so. The Office of the President stated “fundamental deficiencies in the appointment procedure” as reasons behind its move.

Charles University representatives said they are currently discussing their next steps with legal experts.

EU auditors continue investigation of possible Babiš conflict of interest

European Union auditors have begun examining documents held in Prague by the State Agricultural Intervention Fund in connection with allegations of conflict of interest on the part of the Czech prime minister, Andrej Babiš of ANO, and the company Agrofert, which he placed in trust funds two years ago.

The audit should be completed by Friday. Similar controls began last week at the ministries of regional development and labour and social affairs. Critics say that Mr. Babiš is still able to influence Agrofert despite it being in trust funds. They also say that as prime minister he has influence over negotiations on the EU budget and the use of European funds in the Czech Republic.

The prime minister is facing criminal charges of abusing EU subsidies in connection with a hotel and conference centre near Prague. He denies any wrongdoing and says he is the victim of a politically motivated campaign.

Ministry takes advice from counter-intelligence chief on history curriculum review

Representatives of the Ministry of Education held talks on Monday with the director of the Czech counterintelligence service BIS, Michal Koudelka, on reviewing the way modern history is taught in the country’s schools.

In an annual report published last month, BIS said that the current Czech system of modern history teaching is modelled on a Soviet narrative, which may make some students more susceptible to Russian propaganda. A ministry official said the meeting with Mr. Koudelka had confirmed that in a period of hybrid threats it was more important than ever to devote due attention to ensuring balanced teaching of history.

The Minister of Education, ANO appointee Robert Plaga, said he would launch a debate on revising education plans, which set the parameters for content, later this month.

Lack of nurses seen as greatest problem facing Czech health sector

The greatest problem the Czech health system is currently facing is a lack of nurses, Health Minister Adam Vojtěch and President Miloš Zeman agreed after a meeting on Sunday at the president’s Lány residency. Laying out his plans for 2019, the health minister said he wanted to increase shift rewards for nurses by CZK 5,000. Both men also agreed on the necessity of digitising the health sector. CZK 320 billion has been allocated to the Ministry of Health in 2019, CZK 23 billion more than last year.

Weather

Temperatures across the Czech Republic are expected to hover just above zero on Tuesday, with frequent showers and snowing. Strong winds are expected during the night from Monday to Tuesday.

14-01-2019