The ranks of the unemployed in the Czech Republic grew by 24,000 people last month; data released this week showed that as of December, nearly some 542,000 people were out of work, or 9.5 percent of the working age population. That is the highest monthly rate of unemployment in six months. In related news, the number of people running small private businesses, including medical clinics and farms, dropped by 53,000 last year; analysts say a change in the tax code requiring advance payment of a set rate of taxes had led to the decline in entrepreneurship.
Prime Minister Stanislav Gross acknowledged on Tuesday that several special police teams reported directly to him during his tenure as Czech interior minister, but denied suggestions in the media that he formed or exploited the teams for political gain. The daily Hospodarske noviny reported that one such police team, known as "Mlyn," or "the Mill," operated for two years in absolute secrecy and reported only to Mr Gross. Formed ahead of the 2002 general elections, the Mill team collected information about people close to former TV Nova director Vladimir Zelezny, for example, and to those handling finances for the national railways operator, Ceske drahy. Prime Minister Gross said that any suggestion he had used police teams to gather compromising information on rival politicians was "absolute nonsense."
Police investigators have filed additional charges against the choirmaster of the Bambini di Praga children's choir, for allegedly sexually abusing dozens of girls, all of whom are current or former members of the internationally known group. Choirmaster Bohumil Kulinsky, who was arrested in November, has been charged with 25 counts of having sexual relations with underage girls. Police have so far questioned over 100 former choir girls; the most recent charges relate to former members who are now adult women.
Czech humanitarian organisations so far have collected over 200 million crowns in public drives to aid survivors of the deadly Tsunami that hit Southeast Asia three weeks ago. A representative from the People in Need foundation said they were receiving more and more donations now from large businesses, which, due to internal approval processes, had been slower react than individuals and smaller organisations. Czech-run charities are now mainly focussing on helping orphans, supplying hospitals and rebuilding fishing villages in the devastated region. Over 150,000 people died in the Tsunami; one Czech woman died; 12 others remain unaccounted for.
Prime Minister Stanislav Gross, the acting head of the Social Democrats, over the weekend won the support of three regional party branches in his bid to become party chairman. The Social Democrats are due to elect a new leadership at the party's national conference in late March. Prime Minister Gross' main rival for the nomination is Zdenek Skromach, the Labour and Social Affairs Minister, who garnered little support at the weekend vote.
Czechs contributed another 35 million crowns in relief aid to the afflicted countries over the weekend, bringing the total amount to 185 million crowns, the biggest ever collection for an overseas disaster in the country's history. Charities are now mainly focussing on helping orphans, supplying hospitals and rebuilding fishing villages in the devastated region. The Czech government has contributed 15 million crowns in aid and pledged another 200 million for reconstruction of the stricken region.
Josef Fischera, a WWII veteran and leading figure of the Czechoslovak exile community in France has died at the age of 93. The funeral is to take place in Kolin, central Bohemia where Fishera's family has its tomb. Fishera was active in the French resistance movement during World War II and helped save dozens of Jewish children. He earned a number of decorations, including the French Legion of Honour, the Czech order of Tomas Garrigue Masaryk. After the war Fishera taught social sciences at Sorbonne University.
President Vaclav Klaus is expected to nominate Czech National Bank head Zdenek Tuma for another six-year term as bank governor. Citing unnamed sources, the daily Hospodarske Noviny reports that the economist Miroslav Singer of the consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers and long-time Klaus adviser Robert Holman, a professor at the Prague-based University of Economics, will be named to the central bank's governing board; the former CEO of the Czech consolidation agency, Pavel Rezabek, is also thought to be in the running.
Twelve Czechs remain unaccounted for in the wake of the Indian Ocean disaster, eight of the missing are feared dead. A man who has both Czech and Swiss citizenship is also missing, but is kept on the Swiss list since he lives and works in Switzerland. The Czech Republic has only one confirmed casualty so far - a 24 year old woman. Meanwhile, experts have been taking DNA samples from relatives of the eight Czechs believed to have died. The results have already been sent to Thailand and Sri Lanka in order to aid the identification process. The Czech Foreign Ministry has now openly acknowledged the possibility that the bodies of some Czech victims may already have been buried in mass graves.
The centre right Civic Democratic Party will put forward a bill on a referendum on the European Constitution. The proposed bill relates to this particular referendum alone, and stipulates under what conditions it should be held. Posing a simple yes-or-no question, the referendum should be preceded by an in-depth informative campaign and should take place before the end of the year. The leading opposition party of Civic Democrats are opposed to the European Constitution in its present form and have repeatedly warned Czechs that it would restrict the sovereignty of their country.