Specialists monitoring the country's Krkonose, or Giant Mountains, have raised the avalanche warning in the area to the 2nd highest degree, following additional snowfall, windy conditions, and poor visibility. The last four days have seen an additional 70 centimetres of new snow, leading to the formation of numerous unstable - and highly deadly - patches. Every year the Krkonose Mountains see numerous avalanches, at times resulting in fatalities. Last February two Polish rescue workers were the last to die in an avalanche in the area.
The Communist Party has outlined areas it considers key in its campaign
programme leading up to the national election this year. On Saturday
Deputy Chairman Jiri Dolejs told journalists that top priorities
included maintaining economic growth at a minimum 5 percent. The party
would also like to focus on the health sector, employment, as well as
education. The Communist Party, meanwhile, remains highly critical of
the Czech Republic's membership in the European Union, and has called
for the country's withdrawal from NATO.
In recent days, MPs from both the Communist party and the Social Democratic Party combined in Parliament to push through a number of key laws, including the new labour code. But, Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek, the head of the left-of-centre Social Democrats, has repeatedly ruled out forming a future coalition counting the Communists as members.
Friday evening saw a lavish and elaborate ceremony open the XX Winter Olympic Games in Torino, Italy. Czech supermodel Eva Herzigova took part in the ceremony, playing the key role in a live rendition of Botticelli's famous painting "The Birth of Venus". The Czech delegation in Torino counts 82 sportsmen and women. In Friday's ceremony they were led by speed skater Martina Sablikova, who carried the Czech flag.
Criminal police have been investigating the collapse of a sports stadium in the east Bohemian town of Humpolec on Friday evening. There have been indications so far showing that heavy snow amassed on the structure's roof was instrumental in the fall. No one was injured, but shortly before the collapse of the saddle-roofed building some thirty children - hockey juniors - had been training inside. An evacuation was enforced and fire brigades called in to secure on-site chemicals. Recent days have seen numerous cases in the Czech Republic where buildings collapsed under the weight of snow. The stadium in Humpolec had already been cleared as "safe" by a structural engineer. The town's mayor now says he expects the town will take legal action.
The Lower House on Friday passed an amendment to the bill on civilian aviation that will soften the conditions for the security clearance of pilots and flight attendants. Under the law, pilots and attendants will not have to pass as demanding security vetting carried out by the National Security Office in the future. They will be vetted under more standard procedures by employers themselves. In this way MPs have reacted to demands by civilian pilots who have long sought to abolish Security Office vetting. Pilots objected to the demand of a high number of personal documents including information about their families, short and long foreign trips or contacts with persons living abroad. The NBU has already screened most of the 14,000 pilots and stewardesses who applied for clearance. If passed by the Senate and signed by the president the bill will take effect in July 2006.
In related news, the Czech Republic's counter-intelligence agency, the BIS, has said it does not expect any violence related to the caricatures to ensue on Czech territory. The agency's spokesman Jan Subert said on Friday that Muslims in the Czech Republic had no intention of provoking violence. According to Mr Subert, no special measures had been taken to increase security, although the service is monitoring the situation. Police spokesman, Jiri Vokus meanwhile, has said that while special measures have not been taken elsewhere, security at the Danish Embassy has been heightened. Denmark has seen the brunt of outrage by Muslims offended by the depiction of Mohammed, considered blasphemous in the Islamic tradition.
On Friday the XX Olympic Winter Games will officially open in Torino, Italy, lasting from the 10th of February until February 26th. The Czechs have an unprecedented 82 athletes competing. Medal hopefuls include the ice hockey team lead by Jaromir Jagr and Dominik Hasek, who will be attempting a gold-medal run similar to the Czech team's success in Nagano, Japan, in 1998. Team representatives are approaching the challenge cautiously, saying that the Czech team is only one among a strong group of favourites that includes Canada, Sweden, and the United States.
The Lower House has passed a bill on injury insurance transferring
compensation for work-related injuries and illnesses from commercial
insurance companies to the state. Under the law, the Czech Social
Security Administration will take over responsibility. At present,
employers in the Czech Republic pay injury insurance fees to one of the
two insurance companies authorised with the task, under the country's
The European Union, critical of the situation, proposed two solutions - either allowing all health insurance companies to pay out compensation or to transfer the duty to the state. Some observers have criticised the bill for not being sufficiently transparent.
The Iranian Embassy in Prague has sent a letter of protest to Czech diplomatic officials. The Foreign Ministry's spokesman Vit Kolar said on Friday that the letter was in response to the reprinting of a caricature depicting the Prophet Mohammed by two Czech newspapers. In recent days, the caricatures, first printed by a Danish newspaper, sparked vehement and sometimes violent protests in Muslim communities from Asia to the Middle East. The Czech dailies - Mlada Fronta Dnes and the financial newspaper Hospodarske Noviny - defended their decision to reprint one of over a dozen caricatures, on the grounds that it was for "illustrative purposes" only. The Iranian Embassy has asked for an official apology. But, the Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda, while denouncing the cartoons, has stressed it is up to the dailies themselves to choose what to print.