The police have filed charges against two people in connection with Thursday’s trade union strike, police spokeswoman Eva Kopáčová told the CTK news agency on Friday. One is a woman who assaulted a police officer in a skirmish outside the Czech Finance Ministry; the other is a man who smashed the glass doors to the metro in a fit of rage after finding it closed for the day. The police spokeswoman said there had only been one serious incident in the course of the day-long protest a skirmish outside the Finance Ministry when Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek unexpectedly walked out to talk to talk to demonstrators. He was showered with insults and in some cases tomatoes and eggs, though none hit their target. It was then that a member of the anti-conflict team present was assaulted by one of the protesters who hit him over the head with a megaphone. She could face up to four years in prison.
Trade union leaders are demanding the withdrawal and redrafting of the government’s reform bills to open the way for broad public consensus as well as the dismissal of Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek over the way he behaved during Thursday’s anti-government demonstration. The demands were published in the wake of Thursday’s 24 hour transport strike which trade unions see as a unanimous victory. Trade union leaders have indicated they are expecting significant concessions from government leaders at a tripartite meeting on Monday and have threatened further strike action if their demands are not met. They also insist that Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek should leave his post saying he intentionally provoked an incident outside the Finance Ministry during Thursday’s protest.
Politicians and union leaders are still arguing about the significance and the impact of Thursday’s transportation strike. But in Prague, where nearly all municipal transport came to a standstill, the strike had one unexpected effect – many more people than usual got on their bikes and rode to work. Pro-cycling activists now hope that this could be a defining moment, with Thursday’s necessity eventually becoming the city’s everyday virtue.
In today’s business news: Czech Railways has released an estimate of the damages that the strike caused the company, Prague’s taxi drivers and hotel owners benefit from the transport strike, the metallurgical company ArcelorMittal Ostrava sees profits of 758 million Czech crowns, the Finance Ministry has halted its administrative proceedings against the betting giant Sazka and the Manpower Employment Outlook Survey predicts an increase of employment opportunities by 3 percent in the next quarter.
Around 1,000 trade union members and their supporters staged a march through the centre of Prague on Thursday. On their way to the seat of the government, the protestors stopped at the Finance Ministry and threw tomatoes at Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek who came out to talk to them. Addressing the rally, union leaders criticized the government’s reforms for being socially insensitive and for failing to tackle corruption. The head of the transportation workers’ union, Luboš Pomajbík, said the strike was a great success as few tram and bus drivers went to work on Thursday. Police have detained a man without a valid ID and a woman who reportedly attacked a member of the police anti-conflict team.
No major complications have been reported in Prague, Brno and other major Czech cities on Thursday as many people cycled or walked to work while others stayed at home or left cities ahead of time. No traffic jams have been registered in the capital as most city streets are unusually quiet. Prague’s Ruzyně international airport is handling all departures and arrivals according to schedule and has organized a shuttle bus service from city centre. Hospitals in Prague are also fully operational. Several banks closed some of the branches in the city but most have remained open for business.
Railway and municipal transportation in the Czech Republic came to a near standstill on Thursday due to a nationwide strike protesting government reforms. The 24-hour strike, which began at midnight Wednesday, closed Prague’s metro system for the first time ever; however, some bus and tram routes remain in operation after the Prague City Transit Authority reached a deal with unions to allow drivers who wish to work to do so. Limited municipal transit is also operating in other cities. The national railway service was completely paralysed; the government dispatched 150 army buses and drivers to cover a small number of routes. The strike is to end at midnight.
Czech Prime Minister Petr Nečas said on Thursday that his government was ready to negotiate with the trade unions about changes to the individual reform steps but would continue implementing systemic reforms. Mr Nečas also said the strike only caused financial losses and increased political tension in the country, adding it was a victory for the Czech people who coped well with the transport limitations imposed on them by the trade unions. For their part, trade union leaders said the strike was a great success, particularly for the employees of Czech Railways who stopped trains across the country for the whole 24 hours.
Thursday’s trade union transport strike was the biggest anti-government protest since the fall of communism. The prime minister argues that the cabinet’s flagging popularity with the public is the price for pushing through painful reforms. But are the government’s far-reaching reforms the only reason for the growing public discontent? And what –if anything – will this strike bring? In this edition of Panorama Daniela Lazarová asked political analyst Vladimíra Dvořáková for her take on developments.
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