The first major snowfall of the winter has begun forcefully with an abrupt blizzard across the country, wreaking havoc for transport and power networks, particularly in the north and east. More than half a metre of snow fell in some mountainous regions between Wednesday and Thursday, and hurricane-level winds of 140 km/h were reported in the northern Krkonoš Mts, where authorities have issued an avalanche warning. The energy company ČEZ upped the number of homes without power from 30,000 to 70,000 in the course of Thursday due to felled power lines and declared calamities in eight regions. A state of emergency was declared in the Moravian areas of Vsetín and Jeseník, where a heat plant supplying thousands of homes was down due to the blackouts. Fallen trees have also closed roads throughout the country and trains are delayed in places by up to two hours.
Former president Václav Havel on Thursday came out very strongly against his successor Václav Klaus for the latter’s obstruction of the Lisbon Treaty ratification process. Speaking at a press conference for the 20th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution, Mr Havel called the president’s attitude irresponsible and dangerous, adding that his failure to understand the constitution was damaging to the country and its reputation. Mr Klaus fairly stunned pundits last week by announcing for the first time that his endorsement would depend upon an exemption from a part of the treaty. With the Czech Parliament having passed the treaty earlier this year, President Klaus himself has become the sole obstacle to final ratification of the EU-wide reform treaty, which requires the endorsement of all 27 member states in order to take effect. The treaty is currently the subject of a complaint submitted to the Constitutional Court by a group of the president’s allies; President Klaus maintains that his endorsement is impossible so long as that review is underway.
The Czech interim government has said it considers the EU’s Lisbon treaty wholly compatible with the Czech constitution. In his statement on the matter for the Constitutional Court, Prime Minister Jan Fischer said that the cabinet also considers the complaint itself to be formally inadmissible, as it asks the court to exceed its own authority, for example by reviewing the guarantees allowed for Ireland in order to spur ratification in that country. For his part, Mr Klaus on Thursday encouraged the public to read the complaint, and said that he would soon release his own statement on it.
Prime Minister Fischer also said his cabinet was working with the president to discuss the treaty exemption that Mr Klaus has stipulated. Mr Fischer said that the desired guarantees would have to be worded very precisely, and that a team had been put together to formulate them. He also emphasized that the president was not the sole partner to the discussion, but rather all 27 members of the EU, who will have to reach an agreement on the matter at their October meeting.
President Klaus’ visit to Russia on Wednesday was hailed by Russian newspapers as an improvement in Czech-Russian relations. The business daily Vedomosti wrote that Mr Klaus’ one-day visit “in the role of a friend” marked a point where Moscow and Prague no longer see one another through the radar issue. The paper also stated that with the US having dropped plans to build a radar base in central Bohemia, economic relations between the Czech Republic and the Russian natural gas giant Gazprom have been pushed to the fore. The Czech Republic’s main gas company, RWE Transgas, took only a third of the 8.5 billion cubic metres of gas it was contracted to have purchased by August.
In other news, the convention of Czech Airlines’ pilots’ union has approved a wage cut for pilots of up to 40% based on a slew of conditions, including the departure of the company’s management and its continued ownership by the state. The head of the union, Filip Gaspar, said that the wage decrease was an alternative to privatisation, adding that the union would only sign the relevant contractual documentation with the new management. The union’s other conditions are to be announced Friday. The finance ministry is currently weighing up the sole bid for around 90 percent of Czech Airlines from the Unimex-Travel Service Consortium. The government should give its verdict on whether the sale can go ahead by the end of the month.
Prague police on Thursday found an infant girl left in a plastic bag on a street corner at the city centre Karlovo Náměstí. The child was discovered in the morning by street cleaners, who brought it to the hospital in critical condition from hypothermia. Police are now seeking the child’s mother, who is suspected of its abandonment.
The city of Olomouc has officially announced it will be hosting the first of what it plans as an annual international festival of ballet from October 23 to 25. The Ballet Days Olomouc festival anticipates leading European ballet troupes as well as a competition category for professional and student dancers from the Czech Republic and abroad. The event will conclude with a gala event featuring performances by the Kremlin Ballet, the Vienna and Berlin State Opera Ballets, among others.
The Czech Republic was eliminated from the World Cup 2010 contention on Wednesday after a 0:0 home draw with Northern Ireland. To secure second place in qualifying Group 3, the Czechs needed to win and San Marino would have to draw or beat Slovenia. However, the Slovenes won 3:0, leaving the Czechs third in the group. Wednesday’s game was appearance for the national side for Czech defender Marek Jankulovski of AC Milan.
Heavy snowfall is expected to continue across the Czech Republic through Friday, when temperatures are forecast to reach 4° Celsius in lower-lying parts of the country. The weekend is expected to be overcast with highs slightly above zero.
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