On a working visit to the United States Czech Prime Minister Petr Nečas is to meet for talks with US President Barack Obama. The meeting, which is to cover bilateral cooperation and international security issues, is expected to be dominated by US interest in a multi-billion crown tender on the expansion of the Czech Republic’s Temelín nuclear power plant. The US-based firm Westinghouse is competing against two other bidders in the tender. According to the CTK news agency the Czech prime minister will seek US support for the idea of a training centre for NATO helicopter pilots in the Czech Republic.
The Czech Army on Thursday officially ended its mission in Kosovo after 12 years in the country. The Czech troops were part of a NATO-led peacekeeping force, KFOR, established on the basis of a UN Security Council Resolution. Their main mission was to guard Kosovo’s borders, maintain law and order and protect towns and ethnic minorities against attacks by extremist groups. The last of the 8,000 Czech troops who served in the country since 1999 on Thursday symbolically handed over the keys of the city Sajkovac and for the last time lowered the Czech flag over the KFOR military base where they served. The Czech Army now only has troops in Afghanistan and a handful of officers serving as military observers in other states.
The Senate on Thursday approved a bill introducing criminal liability of collective entities and business corporations, which would enable courts to fine them, seize their property or even abolish them for serious offences. The bill, which still has to be signed by the president, extends the list of crimes for which business entities can be punished to almost 80. As of 2012 firms could thus be punished for money laundering, counterfeiting, tax evasion, unlawful possession of nuclear material as well as sexual harassment and crimes connected with child pornography.
The junior coalition party Public Affairs is pushing for a last-ditch attempt at reaching agreement on direct presidential elections. The party has called for a meeting of coalition leaders and is trying to arrange a meeting with the opposition. Although all parliamentary parties support the idea of direct presidential elections they have fallen out over proposed changes to the president’s powers. While Public Affairs have not called for any changes, TOP 09 and the Social Democrats would like to see the president’s powers reduced. The Civic Democrats are divided over the matter. The next presidential elections are to take place at the beginning of 2013 and the single official candidate so far in Defence Minister Karel Schwarzenberg of TOP 09. Other parties have floated several names.
On the eve of Independence Day, Defence Minister Alexandr Vondra bestowed over thirty medals and decorations on the country’s WWII heroes, veterans from Afghanistan, athletes and cultural figures. Among those decorated were Jiri Gruntorad, signatory of the Charter 77 human rights manifesto, documentary film director Kristyna Vlachova and Alois Denemark, 91, who cooperated with the Anthropoid resistance group that prepared the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, the Reich-Protector of Bohemia and Moravia. Denemark is now the only living witness of the event.
Defence Minister Alexander Vondra is being investigated in connection with the case of the Mašín brothers whom he decorated for bravery in memoriam in August of this year. The Mašín brothers were part of a resistance group which fought its way out of communist Czechoslovakia in the hard-line 1950s. They killed several people on their way out, at least one of them pacified and unarmed, which is why their escape divides society to this day. Some brand them assassins, while others consider them heroes. Several people have reportedly filed charges against the defence minister saying that in decorating the Mašín brothers he had in fact approved and rewarded cold-blooded murder.
President Vaclav Klaus on Thursday granted seven pardons. His office said those pardoned had been selected on humanitarian grounds. Among the seven, are two Ukrainian nationals who were to have been extradited from the country. The President’s Office recently came under fire for Mr. Klaus’ choice in granting pardons with allegations that the system was corrupt. The president issued a vehement denial that the system could be open to corruption but some politicians have suggested the granting of pardons should be a shared responsibility with another independent body.
There has been a steady increase in the number of women serving prison sentences, according to Thursday’s edition of the daily Mladá fronta Dnes. The paper writes that while in 2001 the country had 789 women convicts there are now more than double that number. The vast majority of them are in jail for financial transgressions such as credit fraud and a vicious circle of debt. Experts say that many women get into serious trouble as a result of widespread financial illiteracy.
The German magazine Stern writes that there is evidence indicating that the fugitive Czech businessman Radovan Krejčíř was behind the 2010 murder of German entrepreneur Uwe Gamballa in South Africa. The magazine says that available evidence suggests that Krejčíř had Gamballa kidnapped and murdered because he refused to smuggle money for him to South Africa. The 43-year-old Czech entrepreneur has been convicted of extensive fraud in the Czech Republic but managed to escape from the country and has been living in South Africa since 2007. He was also charged with conspiracy to murder. The South African authorities have refused to extradite him to the Czech Republic.
Goalkeeper Petr Čech helped his side Chelsea advance over Everton on Wednesday in round four of the Carling Cup. The Czech keeper came on in the second half after fellow Chelsea netminder Ross Turnbull tripped Louis Saha before the hour mark. Čech came on with only short warning but stopped Baines’ penalty which the player kicked to the centre of the goal. The Czech goalkeeper also stopped the rebound. Chelsea won the game in extra-time 2:1.