Health officials are investigating more than 16 suspected cases of swine flu in the Czech Republic. An additional three people have been hospitalised - two in Prague and one in the city of Ostrava – on the suspicion they could have the illness. On Wednesday, the country’s chief health inspector Michael Vít warned the first case of swine flu in the Czech Republic could be confirmed within a week. So far, the deadly virus has spread to several EU states, including Austria and Germany. Prague’s Ruzyně international airport is preparing additional steps, including the introduction of thermal cameras, to help detect flu cases.
In related news, the European Commission and the Czech EU presidency on Wednesday rejected France's proposal for the EU to limit flights to Mexico, hit by the deadly swine flu. The proposal was suggested at an informal meeting of EU transport ministers in Litomeřice, a diplomatic source confirmed. The EC and the Czech presidency said that individual member states had the right to impose limits on travel but made clear such limits could not be handled on the EU level.
The proposal of the French delegation, led by French Transport Ministry director Raymond Cointe, was unexpected given EU health ministers are to meet in Luxembourg on Thursday to discuss possible measures against the spread of the disease. French Health Minister Roselyne Bachelot has made clear France will push for an EU-wide flight ban to Mexico when the EU health ministers meet. The World Health Organization (WHO) has suggested such a ban could be pointless. At the same time, the WHO confirmed on Wednesday that there was no sign that the spread of the virus was slowing.
The Czech state budget gap could reach up to 200 billion crowns (just under 10 billion US dollars) if the economy drops by 2 percent in 2009, Tomáš Uvíra, the candidate for finance minister, has said. He made the statement at a conference on EU and state aid to companies on Wednesday. The forecast is bigger than a 150 billion crown deficit predicted by the outgoing Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek. Mr Uvíra, a department head at the Finance Ministry, is expected to replace Mr Kalousek when the country’s new caretaker government is named to office on May 8.
The central state budget gap is the main part of the country's overall fiscal system. Outgoing Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek has predicted the total public sector deficit to reach 4.5 to 5 percent of gross domestic product this year.
Former Ku Klux Klan head David Duke will reportedly return to the Czech Republic if his case goes to trial, the Czech media have reported. A Czech associate of Mr Duke’s, linked to the far-right extremist movement, said that he had been in contact with the former Klan leader, saying he was prepared to return to defend himself. David Duke was arrested in Prague last Friday on the suspicion of supporting movements aimed at suppressing human rights. Czech police questioned him for seven hours and recommended he be held in custody; but he was released and ordered to leave the country following a decision by the state prosecutor.
The Czech Republic and the United States exchanged ratification documents on the treaty on extradition of criminals in Prague on Tuesday, part of an agreement between the US and the EU. The ratification process is yet to be completed by two remaining EU member states, Greece and Belgium. The Czech justice minister, Jiří Pospíšil, said that both parties will maintain the right to refuse to extradite their citizens; also, countries without capital punishment will only be able to extradite their nationals provided they will not be sentenced to death.
Hundreds of dairy farmers in various parts of the Czech Republic joined farmers in other EU countries, including France, on Wednesday calling for fair milk prices. Across Europe some 25,000 dairy farmers took part. Dairy producers in the Czech Republic, as elsewhere, urged politicians to create better conditions. A drop in milk prices has plagued milk producers for months. The largest group of protestors in the Czech Republic came out in the Vysočany region (Czech-Moravian highlands). Czech producers would like to see a minimal milk price set at around 7 crowns per litre.
Czech truckers parked around 100 lorries along a route in Litomeřice on Wednesday to call attention to the outgoing prime minister’s failure to introduce toll rebates. Traffic almost came to a standstill in the north Bohemian town for several dozen minutes, although hauliers insisted obstructing traffic was not their aim. The problems were attributed to transport limitation imposed by the police ahead of a meeting of EU transport ministers. Last year, outgoing Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek promised Czech truckers toll rebates of up to 13 percent. Hauliers insist the situation in road transport remains critical, with the economic crisis following high oil prices and the strong euro.
President Václav Klaus has appealed to members of the Civic Democratic Party – the party which he founded and led as prime minister and opposition leader in the 1990s – to bring the party back to its original roots and previous standing on the political map. Mr Klaus gave up honorary chairmanship of the right-of-centre Civic Democrats last December, unhappy with the party’s direction under his successor Mirek Topolánek. He also missed a recent ceremony marking the 18th anniversary of the party’s founding. The president’s latest statements were presented in an open letter to rank-and-file Civic Democrats, charging the party had made a fundamental shift to the left.
Pope Benedict XVI will receive Czech President Vaclav Klaus in the Vatican on May 30, the Czech daily Právo has written, news also confirmed by spokesman Radim Ochvat. It will be the first meeting between Benedict XVI and the Czech head of state. The two are expected to discuss the Pope’s visit to the Czech Republic planned for the final week of September.
The police have reported that an unidentified vandal has damaged part of Prague’s world-famous Orloj or Astronomical Clock, which dates back to the 15th century. The damage took place sometime between April 27 and 29, the police said. Someone broke the arm off one of the statues, known as the Astronomer, decorating the clock tower. The missing piece was not found. The statue has been removed for restoration work which should take several weeks. It is not an original but a replica dating back to the mid-20th century.
Two weeks ago Chelsea netminder Petr Čech was criticised for allowing seven goals in two matches. But on Tuesday the goalkeeper silenced critics when he kept a clean sheet against Barcelona at Nou Camp. The game, the first leg in the semi-final between Chelsea and Barcelona in the Champions League ended scoreless. Čech became the first visiting goalie this year to not allow a goal on Barcelona’s pitch. After the game, he praised his defenders. The second leg will take place at Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge.
Mostly cloudy skies with a chance of rain are expected on Thursday: daytime temperatures should reach highs of around 18 degrees Celsius.
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