The head of the Czech Air Force Frantisek Padelek grounded all L-159 fighter jets Wednesday, after a technical flaw was discovered in one of the planes during training. Defence Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik confirmed that the malfunction, which involves the interruption of a crucial electric signal between one of the jet's computers and its diagnostic equipment, could prove dangerous for the plane's pilots. The fault has already been confirmed in several other L-159s, and the army is now checking the entire fleet, which is grounded until further notice.
The latest difficulties have renewed criticism of the L-159 project, which has cost the Czech Air Force almost 50 billion Czech crowns. In all, the air force ordered 72 of the planes from the manufacturer Aero Vodochody, many of which have not been delivered because of technical difficulties.
The Prison Service has tightened restrictions on 19 Russian-speaking prisoners who are serving time in Czech jails. They have been placed in separate isolated cells, with no possibility of communicating with each other. Any packages from outside will also be closely monitored, and the prisoners can greet visitors only through a glass screen. Recently the prisoners attempted to organise a series of multiple riots, in an effort to deflect attention from the planned escapes of several Russian and Ukrainian mafia bosses. The plot, which was coordinated among a total of 11 Czech jails, was foiled by prison authorities late Sunday. Kamila Meclova, the head of the Czech Republic's Prison Service, says the action indicates the growth of a new phenomenon in Czech prisons, the phenomenon of organised crime. Prisoners were able to mastermind the planned riots and escapes through the use of mobile phones, and it is suspected that as many as ten prison guards were directly involved in helping the plotters, providing plans of the prisons and even weapons: the suspects will be charged soon. Prison guards and other prison workers will now be banned from bringing mobile phones into buildings where prisoners are kept. Mrs Meclova says what would really be needed to solve the problem would be prisons equipped with special scramblers, which would prevent the transmission of cell phone signals; she estimated such a project would require some 200 million Czech Crowns.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Jan Kavan met with New York's Mayor Rudolph Giuliani Wednesday to express the Czech Republic's solidarity with the relatives of the victims of the September 11th terrorist attacks. Mr Kavan handed Mr Giuliani a cheque for 120 000 USD, as well as a letter from Prague. The donation was raised by a charity draw in the Czech Republic, organised by Humanitarian Help New York and the Civic Initiative for the European Union. Prague's Town Hall also donated funds.
On Wednesday even a buoyant home crowd and a sold-out Letna arena in Prague were not enough to lift the Czech National Team over the Belgians in what was their last chance to qualify for the Football World Cup in Korea and Japan in 2002. Although the Czechs started strongly in the first half of the second-leg play-off match, they were unable to break through a solid Belgian defence. On the opposite end the Belgians looked dangerous with Wesley Sonck's header sailing towards goalminder Pavel Srnicek's right post. It was an early warning, but the second half fared no better for the Czechs, who looked lacklustre, produced no real chances, and became easily provoked as the clock ticked down. Marek Jankulowksi's tackle on Gert Verheyen in the Czech's penalty area in the 86th minute awarded the Belgians a penalty kick which sealed the game, with Marc Wilmots kicking the ball easily past goalminder Pavel Srnicek. The match ended Begium 1 - Czech Republic 0, with Belgium winning 2-0 on aggregate. The Czech's disappointing finish smashes the Czech Republic's dream of reaching the world cup for the first time since 1990, when the Czechs competed in what was then a joint Czechoslovak team.
The Czech government considered which steps to take in the fight against hard illegal drugs, especially heroin, and aims to crack down on criminal activities associated with heroin sales. Wednesday the cabinet reviewed the results of current anti-drug legislation and recommended that illegal drugs be listed in two or three categories, according to type: on the one hand "softer" drugs such as marijuana, and on the other "hard" drugs which include heroin. And pervetin. The head of the anti-drug commission Josef Radimecky said the priority of the government should be a crack-down on serious forms of drug criminality, rather than more isolated and individual cases of marijuana abuse. So far the government has not found the legislation in place to have reduced drug abuse or drug availability in the Czech Republic.
Vladimir Zelezny, the General Director of the Czech Republic's most successful private TV station Nova, charged with attempting to cheat a creditor, will remain in prison for a second night, as he awaits for a state attorney's decision to decide whether or not he will be remanded in custody until trial. On Wednesday chief investigator Vladimir Machala put forward the recommendation that Mr Zelzeny be held, on the grounds that Mr Zelezny could influence witnesses; the state attorney must make a final decision within less than 24 hours. Meanwhile, police are refusing Mr Zelezny access to his lawyers, a move which Mr Zelezny's legal team has criticised, arguing that it constitutes a case of legal obstruction. They have put forward an official application to visit, which they expect to be forthcoming soon.
Mr Zelezny is embroiled in a legal dispute with the American firm CME, the company which helped to set up TV Nova in the 1990s and was later sidelined. Last week police raided TV Nova's offices confiscating computer files and documents and charged Zelezny's lawyer and close associate Ales Rozehnal with fraud. If found guilty both of the accused could receive jail sentences of up to eight years.
Thursday is expected to be partly sunny with clear skys and day temps of around 2 degrees C.
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